“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then, you have to play better than anyone else,” said the legendary Indian hockey player, Dhyan Chand. For Mahesh Anand, president, Nippon Paints India, the quote is an apt description of his passion for hockey.
A native of Chennai, Anand fondly remembers growing up in Palayamkottai, where hockey was considered a religion, and not just a sport. The cultural ethos of the place had a strong impression on him and he was drawn into the game. Anand was part of the junior hockey team when he was 11-years-old. “At that time, owning a hockey stick was a matter of great pride for us,” he says. Incidentally, it was during the same period that India won a gold medal for hockey at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. “Owning a hockey stick was rare back then, and those who had it, we called them ‘Indian maharajas’,” he adds. The continuous encouragement from his school coaches and the felicitation of the country team at an international level had left an indelible mark on a young Anand.
Reminiscing his early association with the game, he recalls how an inter-school hockey competition with a rival school would be like an India-Pakistan match. A team victory in one such match earned Anand his very own hockey stick, which was gifted as a memento by his school. “I still have that hockey stick with me today,” he says.
The love for the game did not end for Anand after his school days were over. He made sure this winning streak enhanced his passion for the game. Currently, he is a part of the Rocker’s club in Trichy where he makes time from his busy schedule to pursue the game at least once in six months. Anand has also read up extensively about the evolution of the sport in the country, “Hockey is a special game. Unlike most of the other sports we play, this one originated in India and Pakistan — on our own soil. However, with changing times, its focus started shifting from the individual to the team; that’s where the Europeans mastered it, and took it away from us.”
Due of the lack of appropriate facilities and infrastructure, Anand regrets not being part of corporate teams, which are quite common in other games like cricket and golf. But that doesn’t stop the hockey player to embrace all the lessons the game has taught him. “I have always been the left-winger and it is the most important position to be in. This position has taught me to seek the right opportunity and make well thought out decisions,” he says. Ask him if the strategic decision-making skills of the game have rubbed off on him at work, he instantly responds, “When I played, I was put up with the senior boys in the team, and I had to persevere to make my mark felt. That quality is something I imbibed and I find myself putting it to use while making deals and handling clients,” he avers.
With the number of hockey tournaments in the country rising, one wonders what Anand has in store for his contribution to the sport. While one may think he aims to win more tournaments, Anand just brushes it off saying, “I want my son to play the game and not let it die,” adding further that he can only recommend, and not force his aspirations on his son. If he is successful in doing that, Anand believes he would have given the game its rightful heir.