KOLLAM: Punjab’s players, after dethroning defending champions Haryana in the women's final on Wednesday, flocked for the customary huddle and prayer in pure Punjabi. After a minute’s silent contemplation, they bawled in unison, “Jai Punjab, Jai Punjab.”
However, if your ears were sharp enough, you would pick the un-Punjabi twang amidst them. Even when they were shouting in the midst of the game, it wasn’t all Hindi and Punjabi, but a linguistic proposition incomprehensible for most ears. First, the mutterings were delivered fast. Second the tone and tenor were visibly distinct from most languages in the South. It was Manpuri, and it came from the Manipuri flank, as the right side of the Punjab team is known these days.
Scurrying around restlessly like a hastily-done signature is Lalremruati Khiangte, a bundle of energy, whose over-enthusiasm sometimes seems to her biggest undoing as well as forte. Feeding her from deep is skipper Rosalind Lalchhanhimi, an antithesis of her teammate, a picture of serenity, each pass weighted and precise. In front of Lalremruati is Anuradha Thokchom, stealthily prowling the arc for the killer ball. All three are from Manipur, and mostly from the outskirts of capital Imphal.
Punjab might still be the most thriving nursery of women’s hockey, but they can do with a little help from a state that’s half its size and from the opposite end of the map. And all three are more or less regulars in the team, who accidently settled in Punjab due to their jobs. “The job-opportunities are relatively less in our state, so we got a job here and got settled here,” says Rosalind. They assert their heart is solely with the adopted state. “We have to be loyal to the shirt we are playing in. Whether you are playing for the club, country or the state it doesn’t change. It’s a great feeling playing for Punjab, because it has a rich tradition in the game and very difficult to get into the team,” she points out.
The trio played a significant role in their triumph. Rosalind was steely at the back, Lalremruati nippy in the right wing and Anuradha deft in front. And they share a special bond off the turf too. “There is no distinction between any players in the team. We love the atmosphere. But of course, when there are three from the same place but playing for a different state, a certain intimacy is bound to come. Sometimes, we feel like having our food and speaking our language. So it’s great to have them in the team,” she explains.
Their upbringing, too, was similar. They took to the game seeking better employment opportunities, and once they forged themselves for national reckoning, jobs came in search of them. And they promptly accepted Railways’ offer.
Nearly five years in various parts of Punjab, they have learnt quite a bit of Punjabi and bhangra too. “You can get away with Hindi. But we mostly play with Punjabi players and hence know a little bit of the language, too. Anyway, we are quite happy here,” says Rosalind. As for bhangra, Lalremruati broke into an impromptu jig as the hooter blew. “Wasn’t it alright?” she asks her friends for approval. They break into fits of laughter.