By Suresh Nair
WHEN he walked on the hockey field, you could feel the ground shake. When he spoke, there was absolute silence as he delivered his thoughts without fear or favour. When he shakes your hand, you feel the blessed touch of genuine friendship.
And when Gangadharan Surajan passed on Tuesday morning, due to prolonged illness, he left the sporting fraternity in absolute awe and shock. Close to speechless!
The famous line, “big, strong and friendly”, precisely fitted the former Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) retired Major. He was a true-blue role-model, in every sense of the word, as I remember him when I first took to the stick-and-ball more than four decades ago.
Absolutely awesome in distinguished personality, he commanded instant respect with his overall professional and personal mannerism. He was held in highest regard, from teenagers to senior citizens, simply because he was a “mountain of a man”.
Former SEAP Games 1973 vice-captain Arul Subramaniam, also a senior SAF officer, who played in the same gold-medal-winning team, says: “His presence just fires you. I vividly remember the final match in the SEAP Games when we shocked Malaysia 2-0, where I scored the first goal through a penalty flick.
“When I was about to take the penalty-flick he calmed me down tremendously when he told me to focus on where I should flick the ball, just like I endeared during daily practises. I followed his quick advice and when I scored, he ran and hugged me. The team was in tears at the opening goal against the world-class Malaysians. Surajan was simply an outstanding inspiration to our team.”
Award-winning football coach Jita Singh (the SNOC ‘Coach of the Year’ 1981) remembers Surajan from Serangoon English School (SES) days in the mid-1960s when they played in the same hockey team. He says: “We were the powerhouses of schools hockey as majority of the players were experienced teenagers from Jansenites.
“Surajan was like a ‘Don’, from the famous ‘The Godfather’ movie-sequels, very assertive in leadership, outstanding team player and, most importantly, very unassuming, off the field. He garnered tremendous respect from everyone with his gentleman mannerism.”
An annual nostalgic get-together of past and present hockey stalwarts is usually organised at Indian Association in June and last year, even in declining health, Surajan came in a wheelchair and inspiringly fraternised with his mates.
A former founder leader at Jansenites, one of the oldest hockey “kampong” clubs, he was a rare SEAP Games 1973 hockey gold-medallist. He rose, academically, from Serangoon English School (SES) and Raffles Institution (RI), where he was an all-rounder schoolboy legend.
Colonel (Retired) Gurcharan Singh, a former Vice President of the-then Singapore Hockey Association (SHA), says: “Surajan was a hockey mega-star. I knew him as a schoolboy and later we were in the uniformed services together. He was, in a nutshell, a close-to-perfect officer and gentleman. I’m very saddened at his sudden loss.”
Professionally, after retiring from the RSN as a decorated sea-faring major, Surajan started Major’s Pest Management Services, always setting the highest standards towards pest-control industry-improvement.
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