Dr Vikrant Kishore reminisces about his ‘tryst with the Women’s Hockey Team’ in his school days.
As we celebrate and watch with joy and pride the amazing journey of the Indian women’s Hockey team in the Olympics, I am reminded of my own tryst with the women’s hockey team in Vikas Vidyalaya, Ranchi (Jharkhand state) in 1990, when a match with the VVR school team and the Women’s Hockey team comprising of Indian national, and state-level players was fixed for the first time.
The passion for Hockey runs deep in the state of Jharkhand, which has produced many national and international level players, both men and women, and most of these are from the indigenous communities, a matter of pride. In Tokyo Olympics two women Hockey players from Jharkhand are also representing India – Nikki Pradhan (defender) from Khunti district and Salima Tete (midfielder) from Simdega. Both the players hail from small nondescript villages, that fall in the notorious Naxal belt. But it is from these poor yet very culturally rich tribal belts of Jharkhand many a great Hockey player have come out, mostly from very humble backgrounds.
Watching the quarter-finals where the Indian women’s team beat the Australian team 1-0, I could vividly recall our game with the women’s hockey team in our residential school Vikas Vidyalaya, Ranchi back in the year 1990… and how that changed my perception regarding women in sports.
When our Hockey coach and House Master Mr. Bahri informed us that we will be playing with the women’s team, we all were rather amused, and a bit dumbfounded. How will we play with a team of women? The all-boys residential school team had never ever been on the ground with a women’s team. Thus, our initial reaction was, oh… it’s gonna be easy, we will smash them, some even questioning, how can we even play with the girls?
We started practicing for the big day, often with a sense that this will be easy, some even teasing us, that if you lose against the girls, then you will be the butt of the joke in the whole school… and a few were envious of us rubbing shoulders with the girls!
When the big day came,dressed in the school sports attire with our hockey sticks, we waited eagerly for the women’s team. As their bus entered the campus, everyone was looking at the team with bated breath, once they got prepared and started gathering near the benches, suddenly, we felt unprepared, looking begrudgingly at their state-of-the-art gears (of course, compared to what we had at that time), their branded hockey sticks, shoulder pads, elbow pads, knee, and shin pads. For us, only the lucky few would have access to shin guards at the most.
As they entered the field for the practice session, their sprint and movements with the ball perplexed us. Yet, with a certain male ego, we brushed aside the amazing skills that were on display by these fine sporting women. The school team huddled together and discussed the plan of action, some of us having a smirk on our faces, thinking we will simply walk away with the match, a bit overconfident… for being boys!
As the match started, we boys were very hesitant and shy as well, to get closer to the girls and play the way we should. The girls were ruthless, they did not care what we were thinking, all they could see was the goal post, past a team of egoistic boys, worried to get close to them to get the ball. Thus, in the first five minutes, we were down with three goals!
The girls’ team was beating us badly, the home crowd that was there to cheer us suddenly fell quiet, a few from the sidelines remarked, “abe ladkiyon se haar rahe ho” (hey, you are getting defeated by the girls). The coach getting a bit tense tried to motivate us first, and then kept getting frustrated, as the women’s team went hammer and tong, goal after goal!
It was half time, and we were almost down with 11-0 (what I can recall, after all these years). Well, Bahri sir was furious, of course, it was not the “70 minutes” talk for us, but a stern warning to perform better, or else end up being ridiculed. While we found a way out to console ourselves, “arre, yeh to Indian women’s team ke players hain, they are the best, hum school team waale kya kar lenge” (Hey, these are players of the Indian women’s team, they are the best, our school team is no match for them). The male ego was gone for a toss, we had surrendered by halftime already, thus, the next half was another round for the women’s team to show our place, goal after goal… by this time, the home school crowd was cheering for the women’s team, and the boys’ team was looking like a total loser, including me! But I remember very well, I still had a sly grin on my face, thinking at least we played with the best players from the state and the national team.
We were thrashed badly 23-0 or 1 (if I remember correctly)! The game was over in no time… our ego, thrown out of the window! Once the match ended, there was a gloom in the team, some of our mates in the crowd looked at us in a sneering manner. As we went back on the field and shook hands with the women’s team, I felt a certain pride looking at the great sporting girls… and it dawned upon us that it takes much more than a school team to be a part of the Indian team… there were lessons learned, a newfound respect for women in sports, and an understanding of what it takes to be in team India!
Back in the hostel, our friends were brutally scathing… “abe ladkiyon se haar gaye”!
Well, this probably, will remain with us forever now, but I do take pride in the thought that we lost to women’s team that day… and till date, I look forward to the women in sports with great respect and adulation, making us, and the country they represent proud.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and may not necessarily reflect the editorial views or position of NRI Affairs.