India’s astounding performance in hockey in Tokyo Olympic brought back memories of my growing up days in 70s when hockey was our national pride.
Though I never held a hockey stick in my hand, but was an enthusiastic fan of the game of skill, speed and stamina during my school days. Close to my school Kendriya Vidhyalaya at the farthest end of Jalandhar Cantonment, there is a small village called Sansarpur, hailed as the ‘nursery of hockey’ in India. My school had outstanding hockey teams –both girls’ and boys’- comprising players mainly from Sansarpur. It was the passion and performance of my school mates from the village that got me hooked on to the game.
Later when I entered college, my allegiance shifted to cricket but the game remained a passion in rural Punjab. While watching a friendly match between the visiting West Indies and North Zone teams at Burton Park, Jalandhar sometime in 1974, I overheard a burly policeman speaking to another cop on duty, “Aa ki game hai?” I can’t forget the expression on his face as he wondered what kind of game cricket is. Absolutely bewildered he was with the pace of the gentleman’s game. Even the firework from batsmen like Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards failed to excite him. Quite obviously, he was missing the energy and speed of hockey.
I remember how boisterous celebrations broke out when India won the World Cup at Kuala Lumpur in 1975. The players were given a resounding welcome on their return. Like any youngster, I was super excited to see Ajit Pal Singh, the captain of the victorious hockey team along with other players from Punjab taken around the city in a procession. Another commemorative moment was when India won the Gold medal in hockey in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, though in less competitive environment. Thereafter began the downfall of Indian hockey.
Incidentally, around the same time, I entered a new phase of life. Neither did the performance of the Indian hockey generate much interest nor was there time to watch matches due to job and family compulsions. It is only now; the first Olympic Games after my retirement that I could afford to watch hockey matches.
After four decades, I followed every match our teams played. Most interesting was the way my husband and I woke up during India matches starting at 10 30 a.m. Tokyo time, not with customary bhajan alarm on our clock-cum-radio but with radio commentary. We would quickly freshen up to watch the live telecast of the matches from Tokyo.
Indeed, it was a thrilling experience but the most exciting was the high voltage match against Germany. With hearts thumping, we remained on the edge of the seat while watching the intense drama unfold on the field. What a moment of relief, ecstasy it was when the Indian men’s hockey team defeated Germany in a nail-biting finish on 5 August to win a bronze medal in Olympics after decades. A bronze medal not less than gold in terms of emotions and nostalgia! And no less remarkable was the performance of the women’s hockey team that could not make a podium finish, but won millions of hearts for its grit and determination.
The dramatic turnaround in Tokyo has infused new confidence in Indian hockey and restored national pride in the game. I, too, have fallen in love with the game all over again.
(Published in Times of India, Readers’ blog and also on Momspresso
( won Gold Star on Momspresso )