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Posted at: Jan 28, 2018, 2:16 AM; last updated: Jan 28, 2018, 1:00 PM (IST)

Braveheart and hockey wizard, farewell

Lt Col Haripal Kaushik was a rare combination of valour and sporting proficiency
Braveheart and hockey wizard, farewell
Lt Col Haripal Kaushik

Lt Gen RS Sujlana (Retd)

About the same time on January 26 as the last contingent of the 69th Republic Day Parade saluted and moved past the President, up north near Jalandhar, people had assembled in large numbers near the village of Khusropur to give their last salute to Lt Col Haripal Kaushik, Vir Chakra — a soldier of repute, an indomitable hockey wizard and a gentleman to the core.

The adieu was teary, but palpable was the pride that the villagers and soldiers had for a wonderful human being and his sterling qualities; the Last Post too did not seem to end as it echoed through the streets which the Colonel had walked for so many years.

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His life revolved around soldiering and hockey; love for both had inspired him to join the Army where he was commissioned to join the 1st Battalion of the Sikh Regiment. Time and destiny placed him to prove his soldierly traits. As the clouds of war loomed large in 1962, he, as a young Lieutenant, was given command of a company of the gallant men of 1 Sikh, with the onerous task to defend a part of the country’s border in NEFA, holding two posts of vital importance, the IB Ridge and Tongpeng La, close to the International Border (IB).

Soon the battle was at hand. The initial Chinese onslaught struck his forward platoon defences at 0600 hours on October 23, commanded by the valiant Subedar Joginder Singh (later awarded the PVC), where the men led by this irrepressible Subedar fought till the last round had been fired and the last breath heaved. A little distance behind at Tongpeng La, Haripal’s constant touch with Joginder was very reassuring. He knew his position was next, so heels were dug in and he fearlessly and continuously moved between his trenches, encouraging his men to hold fast.

Repeated enemy thrusts and attempts to bypass their location were beaten back or foiled. He and his men were prepared to fight till the last but seeing the overall situation, he was asked to pull back. This he conducted with military precision. His resilience, command, control and courageous leadership were outstanding for which he was awarded the Vir Chakra.

As a hockey player, his talent had flowered during his college days. A very deft handler of the hockey stick and ball, amazing skills with inbuilt trickery were marked. The credit of the lone goal scored in the finals against Pakistan in the 1964 Olympics, which is still talked about in hockey circles, goes to this artful dodger. He proved elusive to none other than the renowned Pakistani full back, Munir Dar, and got India a penalty corner, leading to a stroke, sounding the board by Manohar Lal and the Gold! In the same year, during the tour of New Zealand, he mesmerised the opponents; such was his scheming in the games that the New Zealanders had no answer, and he earned comparison with none other than the great KDS Babu.

He donned the Indian colours for over a decade, playing as the inside left or right; comfortable in both the positions, he could slip into either position. He was part of the team which won two Gold at the Olympics (in 1956 and 1964) with a Silver in 1960 and a Gold in the Asian Games 1966. Col Balbir Singh, a fellow Olympian, had this to say, ‘I grew up watching Haripal play, his sportsman spirit was renowned, he was the coolest player in the circuit, never lost his temper or struck anyone despite the opponent striking, he taught the opponent a lesson by outsmarting him in the game!’

And further, ‘He was magnanimous, never kept the ball to himself but passed freely at the first opportunity, self-aggrandisement was foreign to him and by nature he never indulged in powers-to-be, so, despite the privilege of him not being made the captain, he continued to play his heart out under the captaincy of a junior player, and was overlooked repeatedly for the Arjuna Award, which was awarded to him as late as 1999, nearly 30 years after he had left international hockey. A gentleman to the core, the hockey world will miss him!’

Personally, I first saw him as a cadet in 1970, astride the white Charger as the Adjutant at the Indian Military Academy. His look from the top of the saddle was one of calm coolness but the presence was majestic and imposing. On commissioning, I joined the Sikh Regiment and had the privilege of being welcomed to the Regiment by a first drink and a sumptuous meal by the Lady at his lovely home. As years passed, we continued to meet. My final meeting with him was at a regimental get-together. His knees had given way and as I walked up to meet him and stretch my hand, he replied, ‘How can I shake the hand of my General sitting?’ He struggled to rise with his stick, his handshake and embrace were still firm, but with this gesture he just showed his outstanding resolve and gentlemanly traits.

Farewell Sir, you were indeed a rare combination of valour and sporting proficiency, I really wonder if there will be anyone fit to walk in your shoes! RIP.

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