(From Express Archives)
His arm trembling, ravaged by the effects of a cerebral hemorrhage a few years back, P K Banerjee moved with obvious discomfort to receive a silver plaque from the sports minister on Wednesday. Age, and injury may have dulled the former Indian forward’s reflexes but at the moment he shook hands with Ajay Maken, his grip was firm and his gaze steady, as it must have been more than fifty years ago when he would have received recognition as the captain of the Indian team that reached the semi-finals of the Melbourne Olympics.
Banerjee and several other members of the Olympic squad of 1956 (Melbourne), where India finished fourth, and 1960 (Rome), where they held France to a 1-1 draw, were being felicitated at a function in Delhi. With many of the players from those halcyon days in ill health or having passed away, those gathered used the function as an opportunity to reconnect after many years apart. “You are quite close to each other when you are playing. But once those days are over, everyone has their own thing to do. More important than the fact that we are being honoured after so long is the fact that we are meeting one another once again,” said S Hamid, a member of the Rome Olympics squad.
Reuniting after many years
Many were dressed in the faded indigo of the Indian Olympic blazer, They laughed like long lost brothers, honoring those who were not present and swapping stories by the dozen, the anecdotes flying thick and fast. PK Banerjee, hailed as one of the best strikers India has ever produced, recounted a tale of legendary goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj who had assisted in a goal with only his second touch in an international. “We were playing Sri Lanka, and the ball was passed to Peter. He bounced it twice, which was his signal that he was going to kick the ball long. Peter had one of the strongest kick during our playing days, and the ball travelled nearly half the way into the other half. I was anticipating the shot so I only had to tap it in,” recalled Banerjee, sitting in the centre of a circle of former comrades.
(This article was originally published on April 10, 2011)