The true friends of India
A TALL slim man with a profile like Sherlock Holmes - that was Otto Peltzer, the famous athletics coach who died in Eutin (Germany) some 30 years ago. He used to walk into a local newspaper office late at night, all dusty and tired and, as few suspected, hungry. He used to train the up-and-coming schoolboys of Delhi whole daylong, give away all his money, and more often than not, his dinner too to those who were poor and could not afford the special diet they needed.
He would sit near the sports sub-editor and mutter to himself, apparently uneasy about many things - the state of sports in the country, the poor physique of his wards and the officials who favoured somebody other than them to a victory in one of the many athletic meets in the Capital. Suddenly the muttering used to get louder, reaching explosion point. But his temper used to cool down as suddenly as it rose. From inside his coat pocket he would produce hastily-folded copies of athletic results, announcements of long-distance races, an appreciation of a boy who had performed particularly well or a statement applauding or criticising a decision in the sports world. His handwriting was hard to decipher and his English punctuated with German, tended to be incomprehensible. His health was in a bad state but still he persevered and went all out to create a generation of good athletes in Delhi, surviving on just toast and soup.
Dr. Peltzer was finally persuaded, much against his wishes, to go back to Germany for treatment and rest. He went reluctantly, saying that he would return soon, for he could not leave his boys alone.Though he could not come back, Dr. Peltzer did not forget the boys, Sikand the best among them. Dr. Peltzer decided to invite them over one by one. Some went, others were to follow them. The scheme was laudable as the man was pure in thought, word and deed - wedded to sports for life.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly until fate intervened. He died of a heart attack and the news cast a gloom in the Capital. The Peltzer boys were, however, there to keep alive the memory of the famous coach. And after they grew up, there was the tournament named after Dr. Peltzer to make his name known to the new generations. One can still picture in the mind's eye his gaunt, lanky figure, in jogging suit and cap, walking with hasty strides from Barakhamba Road towards Connaught Circus, a sheaf of papers in his hand and muttering to himself. Where would one meet the likes of him again?
Another personality equally reminiscent was Lady Olave Baden-Powell, wife of the founder of the Scouts & Guides Movement and a great friend of India. One met her 43 years ago when she came to inspect the Girl Guides in Delhi and Agra. As the World's Chief Girl Guide, it was her responsibility to guide the global movement. It was a cold winter morning when she arrived at the airport. There was a CID man following her but she managed to shake him off and plunge into a hectic round of visits. At one place she distributed saris to 600 students and embraced nearly every Girl Guide she met with the words "Oh, my dears, my dears".
The Movement had become a passion for her during the long years of widowhood and she visited the remotest centres to encourage it. Her first visit to Delhi and Agra had been in the company of Lord Baden-Powell, soon after their marriage, and she had a picture of the Taj in her bedroom.
"I look at it every morning and it cheers me up, you know," she said and wiped a tear off her wrinkled face with the words: "Such memories never wither even after long years and the dead do come back to life in them."
The remark was made in 1962 but still comes to one's mind. And before she flew back to London, the lady emphasised with uplifted finger: "My name's Olave, you know, and not Olive, for olives fade and Olave doesn't - like the Taj." How true! Lady Baden-Powell died decades ago but her name and fame linger on.
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