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Wednesday, August 30, 2000

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Arjuna, Dronacharya Awards presented

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, AUG 29. ``Pehchana mujhe (recognise me?)'', `Flying Sikh Milkha Singh' tested the ageing star of the 50s, presently confined to a wheelchair. Parduman Singh strained his memory, suddenly his eyes lit up and the two were locked in a warm embrace at the Rashtrapati Bhavan here on Tuesday.

The two distinguished athletes, who brought laurels to the country together, were meeting each other after ages. Parduman, gold medallist in three Asian Games (1954, 1958 and 1962) for shot put and discus, was gracing the venue, the Ashoka Hall, to receive the Arjuna Award presented in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the promotion of athletics in the country.

Milkha, yet to receive the Award, was accompanying his son, golfer Chiranjeev Milkha Singh. The Flying Sikh was delighted. The occasion had brought joy to many others too and for him it meant a lot. ``What if I didn't, my son has received the Arjuna Award and I got to meet Parduman. We spent some great time together as room-mates during various international competitions!' he remarked and returned to rescue Parduman, who was being harrassed by an insensitive official from Doordarshan.

The 73-year-old Parduman was made to hold the Award and pose in different angles by this official who showed little regard to the discomfort it caused to the veteran. Parduman, in any case, appeared lost in a gathering which failed to recognise his presence and was oblivious of his awesome feats.

In keeping with the past few years, the President Mr. K.R. Narayanan did not make a speech but in contrast to the last couple of occasions there was decorum at the venue because the audience had no cricketers to chase. Bishan Singh Bedi and Balwinder Singh Sandhu were just part of the sports gathering and they loved it too. As for the function, it gave the impression of some sort of a ritual which had to be gone through.

The recitations were listless and a few absentees struck a jarring note. Hockey star Dhanraj Pillay, despite his best efforts, could not make it from Sydney to collect the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award due to none sponsoring his ticket while athletes Gurmeet Kaur and Gulab Chand were away to Jakarta for the Asian Track and Field Meet. Also absent was hockey captain Ramandeep Singh. Strangely no mention was made of Gulab Chand's absence even as close relatives received the awards for the other three.

Dhanraj's award was received by his mother, Mrs Andanamma, who recalled how her naughty son grew into a top class player through ``sheer hard work.''

Of the three Dronacharya Award winners, weightlifting coach A.K. Sirohi and athletics guru Ken Bosen were present while boxing coach Hawa Singh's award was collected by his widow, Angoori Devi. Hawa Singh had passed away on August 14. On the recognition for his contribution to the game, Bosen said ``better late than never.''

Among the Arjuna Award receipients were veteran hockey players Haripal Kaushik, Balbir Singh Khullar and V.J. Philips, basketballer Sajjan Singh Cheema and kabaddi player Balwinder Singh. Speaking after the function, Philips, a sports officer in the Southern Railways, said ``I am happy at this recognition. My contribution towards my country has been honoured.''

Swimmer Nisha Millet, who has been training in Perth, flew down to receive the Award and will now join the Indian contingent for the Olympics. The contingent leaves on September 10.

Badminton star P. Gopi Chand said ``I am pleased and honoured. I feel happy for my parents and coaches who have shaped my career. There is lot more to achieve and this is the right motivation.''

Athlete Sunita Rani, in the squad for the Olympics despite an injury which might prevent her from running the event, was beaming. ``I am so happy. I know my injury has come at such a time to put a dampner but then this can happen to anyone. I am back to light training'' she informed.

After the function, as the young achievers mixed with some of the past heroes, with Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports and Mines Mr. Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and the Minister of State for Youth Affairs, Culture and Sports Mr. Shahnawaz Hussain in attendance, it made for a pleasant atmosphere.

Lot of new faces graced the occasion and the audience too responded sportingly, reserving the loudest cheers of the day for Mr. Venkataravanappa, who was honoured for his outstanding achievements in competitions in athletics for physically handicapped sportspersons.

The list of award winners for 1999:

Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award: Dhanraj Pillay (hockey).

Dronacharya Award: Kenneth Owen Bosen (athletics), Hawa Singh (boxing), Ajay Kumar Sirohi (weightlifting).

Arjuna Award: Gulab Singh, Gurmeet Kaur, Parduman Singh, Sunita Rani (athletics); Pullela Gopichand (badminton); Sajjan Singh Cheema (basketball); Gurcharan Singh, Jitendra Kumar (boxing); Chiranjeev Milkha Singh (golf); Balbir Singh Khullar, Haripal Kaushik, V.J. Phillips, Ramandeep Singh (hockey); Balwinder Singh, Tirath Raj (kabaddi); Jagjit Singh (rowing); Vivek Singh (shooting); Nisha Millet (swimming); Sukhpal Singh (volleyball); Dalbir Singh (weightlifting); Ashok Kumar (wrestling); Aashim Mongia (yachting); Venkataravanappa (paraplegic games).

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Award: Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

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