Of the glory of Tiger’s Gap

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 10 May 2018 09:52:38



Only rarely had Nagpur seen such a pitched battle between the Police and the illegal occupants of a place. But about ten years ago, the city’s famed Tiger’s Gap ground witnessed such a conflict. When the civic authorities sent their encroachment removal squad to the ground to evict hutment dwellers who had occupied the ground illegally, the occupants attacked the squad with brutal force, so much so that the cops who were present customarily as a symbolic protection had to seek additional force to put down the resistance with a firm hand. In that battle that lasted for at least two hours, several cops were injured, so also hutment dwellers. Eventually, 

the eviction was completed successfully, but not before the event had embittered minds forever.
But the Tiger’s Gap ground has always been a famed sporting venue for the city and the region. Its location is really beautiful -- at the foot of the Seminary Hills to its west, the Sadar and Bijli Nagar areas to its east and north, and the famous Tirpude College complex to its south. There is also a small Christian cemetery, and a Forest Department Nursery, beyond which flows a serpentine road separating the climb of the Seminary Hills on the top of which is the St. Francis De Sales College and the seminary. And the name -- the Tiger’s Gap -- came because in those good old days, big cats came for an occasional stroll when the ground was rather far outside the city limits, and the woods around the ground and hills were fairly thick so as to accommodate notable wildlife.

For the past three quarters of a century, however, the Tiger’s Gap ground played host to women’s hockey mainly as the Madhya Pradesh Women’s Hockey Association controlled it. Later on, the nomenclature of the body changed, and the ground became victim to a lot of politics, that included illegal occupation of the place by hutment dwellers under unofficial protection from political leaders with suspect intentions.

In fact, the pitched battle referred to at the start of this episode of ‘Footloose in Nagpur’ took place because of the unholy political patronage those illegal occupants enjoyed.
Of course, now the ground stands cleared of much of illegal occupancy, and open for sporting activity though in a limited measure. But those who had seen its old glory as a very well-maintained hockey ground in the past now grieve that only a small portion of the original four-plus acres of the facility is now usable for sports. The maintenance of the ground is only perfunctory and the place cannot be used for matches of higher value. At best, it can be described as a field for practice sessions.

But I played my life’s first hockey match as my school-team’s captain at the Tiger’s Gap ground. Then, standing at the head of my team, I remember looking around and getting duly impressed by the very green
surroundings on that winter afternoon. The ground, too, wore a green grass carpet that remained so almost around the year. The hockey ball moved smoothly over the surface and it was sheer pleasure dribbling around the rival players and scoring goals. And as the match proceeded into its final
minutes, we all realised that at least a thousand people from nearby areas had gathered along the boundaries to watch our intense play.

Thereafter, I happened to play many a match at the Tiger’s Gap, eventually earning Vidarbha cap and finding my name in print on sports pages of city newspapers. In those wonderful days that extended from school years into college time, every outing on the Tiger’s Gap was memorable. We played headily and heartily and won and lost games -- without bitterness, without rancour. Every moment on the play-field was memorable for its intensity and enjoyable for the opportunity. Competition was fair in those days, and rivalries almost friendly.

The Tiger’s Gap nurtured many talented hockey players -- boys and girls -- for several generations, as a generation changes every five years in sports. Now also, Nagpur must be hosting at least five thousand people of varying age-groups with very fond memories of the Tiger’s Gap ground. Today, they all grieve the loss of the place’s playground-ness that was a hallmark of the city’s and the region’s hockey activity. There were other grounds, too, hosting hockey -- like the Kasturchand Park, the Morris College (later Nagpur Mahavidyalaya) ground, the Patwardhan ground, the Ajni Railway ground, the Normal School ground near the railway track, the St John’s School ground (again near the railway track in Mohan Nagar), the Anjuman School ground, the Bishop Cotton School ground, the Reshimbagh ground ...! But, the pride of place the Tiger’s Gap enjoyed in those days was simply unparalleled.

Those who treated playing hockey as a religion in sports would now also want the Tiger’s Gap ground to get back its old glory. How that can be achieved one does not know at this moment. Yet, one would never feel any hint of guilt if one is harbouring that dream.

But through all the grieving and dreaming, I do remember a very precious moment when I had a terrific opportunity of taking India’s legendary international hockey goal-keeper Shankar Laxman on a ride around the city on my mobike (when Laxman was in the city playing some match).

As a Reporter, I covered the match in great zest, of course, but also did a little bit of social work of entertaining Laxman who wished to have a round around the city. When I took him to the Tiger’s Gap ground, he felt happy seeing the venue, and said, “Aap log lucky ho, mere dost. Aaapke pas aise acchhe maidan hei.” (You guys are lucky, my friend. You have such good grounds in your city).
From that moment in time to today, that an altogether different story.