We now live in a time when, seemingly, every word is recorded, every thought is blogged, every scene is photographed, and every movement is videotaped.   But it wasn’t so very long ago when the only archival storage for this was in the memories of our minds.

Those memories were intensely triggered when I was recently sent this scanned, black-and-white photo of the 1978 IIT Madras hockey team.

I would like to share some of the stories behind this incredible photo which I hope you the dear Reader can view at full screen magnification.

Image Details: Standing L-R – Suresh, Kalyan, Raghu, Narayanaswamy (Capt.), Joga Rao (Coach), Anand, Umashankar, Kumar. Seated L-R – Pinakin, TR Ramesh, Kiro, Sumesh (Goalie), Vijaykumar, Venugopal, N Ramesh.

Although the IIT’s were eligible – as autonomous institutions – to take part in the Inter-University tournaments, they almost never did so, particularly in the team sports like hockey, football and cricket, where it was unimaginable that we would be competitive against the larger universities.

In 1978, however, the hockey team persuaded the Institute to sponsor it for the South Zone Inter-University tournament held in Osmania University.  The plan was finalized and approved at the last minute, and the preparations were notably haphazard. In fact many of the team members were still away on the Christmas vacation and had to be contacted to head back to Madras immediately.

The most difficult case was that of our star forward, Kiro, who was somewhere in the boonies of Bihar and we were even unsure if our telegram would reach him.  (I profusely apologize here to any one who is offended that in those days we used telegrams for the most urgent communications.)  We had given up all hope, and it was a depressed lot sitting in the train waiting to depart from Central Station.  Then literally like some mirage at high noon in the desert we saw Kiro blissfully walking on the platform headed for the station exit. His train from Bihar had apparently just come in on the adjacent track a few minutes before we were pulling out! Even before he realized why he had been asked to return, he was piled into our compartment, and ended up playing in the tournament with a borrowed kit.  But phew, that was a memorable close call!

Upon arriving at Osmania University, we were put up in a hostel that had no water supply, as in nada, zero, zilch.  At the canteen, I was surprised to run into an old schoolmate from Madras studying there, who invited me to his room in the adjacent PG hostel to catch up on old times.  It turned out his hostel had ample water supply, and he was quite agreeable to our team members coming over there for a bath, although as a precaution we had to go there one by one, because there was a watchman whose primary duty was to make sure outsiders didn’t breach the PG hostel defenses to use their precious bathrooms.    While the team photo does convey an overall impression of scruffiness, believe me, if not for the goodwill of that PG hostel friend, we might have all looked positively scary.

A closer look at the photo will also reveal a prevailing somber mood, and it is amply clear that no one in this grim-faced bunch was even remotely contemplating saying “cheese”. The reason is that this photo was taken right after a tough loss in the semifinal game against a superb Madurai University team. (A win in that game would have been an unbelievable story, as it would have put us in the final, and then who knows what?  But alas, that improbable fairy-tale ending was not meant to be.)

There is an interesting story about that semifinal game though – Kumar, who is prominently seen in the photo with his head bandaged, was badly injured and bleeding, and the game was stopped by mutual agreement for 20 minutes while he got medical attention and bravely came back to play.  Kumar was from Madurai, and was a huge star in the junior hockey ranks there before coming to IIT.   Many of the folks on the opposing team were his childhood friends, and were as concerned for him as we were – it was incredible to experience their camaraderie and respect for him, even in the middle of a tense, high-stakes competition.

On the journey back to Madras, we were surprised to find that the Indian women’s cricket team was traveling on the same train.  I just checked Wikipedia, and the 1978 women’s world cup was being held in India at that time, although it must have been a fairly obscure event then.  The only person whom I recall recognizing in that group, was at that time less well-known, but is now legendary – Shanta Rangaswamy.   A few of the more daring of our team members went up and chatted with the ladies, and they were indeed quite gracious.

The sudden appearance of this photo has been a catalyst for many of the team members to get in touch again after the intervening 35 years.   We are planning a reunion, where I hope we can pose for the same photograph again, although sadly, some of the spaces in that formation will not be filled.

But that is why we need to hold on to those precious memories, don’t we?

Acknowledgements:  Thanks to TR Ramesh for locating and scanning this photo, and Ravishankar Balraj for transmitting it to me.

Dr. Ramesh Natarajan is a member of the Data Mining Systems group in the Business and Mathematical Sciences Department at IBM Research. His current research interests are in the areas of statistical modeling, data mining, database systems and high-performance computing.