In November, 2014, Patrick Blennerhassett packed his bags for India.
Blennerhassett, a former Saanich News arts reporter and Saanich resident, was going to meet Balbir Singh Sr., who won three Olympic medals in field hockey and is largely forgotten.
Blennerhassett was first told the story of Balbir Singh in Canada through a co-worker and friend of his father’s. Two years later he has published A Forgotten Legend: Balbir Singh Sr., Triple Olympic Gold & Modi’s New India.
Field hockey used to be the number one sport in India but has been replaced as the crowd favourite by cricket. Singh Sr. was a star when he won Olympic gold in 1948, 1952, 1956, yet today he is largely forgotten in India and lives in relative obscurity in Burnaby.
Blennerhassett’s connection to the 92-year-old was forged through a common trait of idealism. Singh’s is out for the greater good, something that appealed to Blennerhassett.
The authoer set out on a journalist’s visa to India and for two weeks he carried out dozens of interviews in Chandigarh and New Delhi. He heard all the stories about Singh Sr. and his prowess on the hockey field. He also heard the stories of prejudice against the Sikh minority and the great divide in India during Partition. Singh Sr. was there when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the Sikhs paid a high price for the murder carried out by her Sikh guards. Singh Sr. was a victim of the divide and his past is obscure but his story is a metanarrative of India during those unsettling times.
“India is a very complicated country,” said Blennerhassett. “It is a country struggling to be a democracy and is deeply divided by religion.”
Blennerhassett feels Singh Sr. suffered injustice and disrespect and he wanted his story to be told.
“I think at the end of the day it’s kind of a human story and it doesn’t matter if he’s a Sihk and I’m white. Here’s a great Indo/Canadian hero. We can go back in time and celebrate these people. He’s a proud Indian and a proud Canadian.”
A Forgotten Legend: Balbir Singh Sr., Triple Olympic Gold & Modi’s New India will be available in Chapters and Indigo stores as well as on Amazon.
Blennerhassett has published two previous novels with a third, The Fatalists, underway.