Here’s how. The Indian hockey team, first, which was rekindling long-forgotten Olympic nostalgia by making the semi-finals after nearly half a century, when a major chunk of our current population was not even born. Coming, somewhat fittingly, at the expense of our former imperial masters, Great Britain, the fluent 3-1 victory tells us that India is a win away from reclaiming a corner of the Olympic field that was once our living room, complete with wicker sofa-set, black and white TV behind a crochet cover and medals in the shelf above.
Then, equally significantly, if not more, PV Sindhu was staking claim to being India’s greatest-ever individual Olympian — across gender, and possibly generations too. Her face a strange mix of quiet grit and menace, on Sunday, Sindhu was in a mood to take no prisoners, demolishing China’s bewildered-looking He Bing Jiao in less than an hour for her second Olympic medal, an equally precious bronze this time that followed her Rio silver. “I’m on Cloud Nine,” she would exclaim later, but would also speak of undying ambition, “I had a lot of emotions going through me — should I be happy that I won bronze or sad that I lost the opportunity to play in the final?”
As an individual double-medallist, the tall, easy-smiling Sindhu was emulating the Olympic feats of Sushil Kumar. The once-ace wrestler is currently lodged in Tihar jail and was allowed a TV to watch the Olympics only after a special request to the authorities. Sushil had the world at his feet, he let it slip. Something tells you, the Indian sportswomen, constantly aware of their struggles, the ever-rising glass ceilings, the institutionalized patriarchy that they have to overcome on an everyday basis, will treasure their status more. Medals now won by Indian women at the Olympics are eight, three coming at Tokyo alone. Wrestler Vinesh Phoghat is yet to take the mat.
There was a time when an Indian hockey team in the medal rounds at the Olympics was as much a given as current-day Chinese domination across sporting arena. There was a time when India’s winners were men, and our women, the also-rans. With Indian women now clearly calling the shots it makes good sense for us to follow in the way they show us. As for the hockey, let Manpreet Singh and his band of fighting stickmen not be weighed down by the crushing burden of history. Thankfully, they, like all those who came in late, are oblivious of when we were kings.