By P.T. Bopanna
Ammanda Vasu (in picture), who hailed from my ancestral village of Kadangamurur near Virajpet, was perhaps the first Kodava to represent the Indian hockey team. Vasu, aged 83, passed away on Thursday in Bengaluru after a brief illness.
Vasu was personally known to me because he too like me went to Kakotuparambu school near our village, and later Virajpet government high school. Though he was very much senior to me, I remember him because of his simplicity and friendliness. He was a gentleman, both on and off the field.
The intention of this article is not only to pay my homage to Vasu anna, but also to narrate the golden era of hockey in Kodagu, which later came to be known as the nursery of Indian hockey.
Vasu was an unusually calm player who played half back, and was known for his skill with the stick and ball. It was almost impossible for any opponent to get past him as he was good at tackling.
He played for Madras Engineering Group and Centre in the 1960s and 1970s. His hour of glory came in 1970 Asian Games at Bangkok when India won the silver.
Because of the fact that he hailed from Karnataka, he could not achieve much glory as Punjab dominated hockey those days. Precisely for this reason, he could not make it to the Olympics.
Having watched hockey matches being played in my younger days in Kodagu, I can say with certainty that the Kodagu eleven of those days would have defeated the then Indian team. Due to the politics in the hockey field, Kodagu players had to be satisfied playing the game in their turf.
Since I stayed at Virajpet government high school boys’ hostel, my life revolved around the school ground. I have fond memories of those days.
The most lasting memory was playing as opening batsman for Virjapet government high school cricket team and getting out for a duck in the first ball, bowled by one Noor of St. Anne’s school team. That was the end of my sports dream. But I used to watch many hockey matches being played in the high school ground.
Though the living condition of the people in my ancestral village of Kadangamuru was not comfortable, their spirits were high when it came to playing hockey. Our village had a team called KYC, Kadanga which won most of the major hockey tournaments across Kodagu. The team was managed by Ballachanda Ponnu Kunhi and Palanganda Biddappa master. B. P. Govinda, who later went on to captain the Indian team, was the star player of KYC, Kadanga.
Personally, my favourite was ‘Kathe’ (donkey) Somappa, who played for Coorg Teachers’ team. He was the goal-keeper and he would kick the ball from the goal-post to the middle line. It was impossible to get past him. I think he hailed from Somwarpet. I enjoyed watching his antics and his kicks.
When it came to full backs, P.S. Muthu of State Bank and Nayada Vasu master of Teachers’ team, were the best.
Among the forwards, I enjoyed watching Bommanda Chinni, Mandepanda Monni, and Mukkattira Thamanna. The last two played for India later.
The Wanderer’s Team from Madikeri, coached by the legendary C.V. Shankara Swamy, had stylish players. Many of them later went on to play for India, including Paikera Kalaiah.
The most stylish player of the game was Ballachanda Raja who used to wear a bandana. His father Ballachanda Harry mava was always there when Raja played. Harry mava used to sprinkle holy ash near goal-post, which I was told was brought from Peggala devasthana to ensure that his son’s team won.
The golden era of Kodagu hockey has ended with the passing of Ammanda Vasu.