I got to hang out with the India Women’s Hockey Team a few weeks ago. My mother used to be a Goal Keeper in the Haryana State Team in 1968-69 and almost made the National Team. Almost because her team had to turn back from the railway station when two of the team’s star players did not turn up to leave for the qualifier game. The families of those girls did not want them travelling to Kerala ( from Haryana ). The girls had barely ever left their village, let alone leaving their home State. There’s a ton of anecdotes Mom has about those days. How she used to travel from her village on a bicycle, sometimes walking when the bicycle was not available. For kilometres. Being harassed by village boys in front of her college because the team used to wear shorts in those days. Etc.
I’d say not much has changed since those days. Some things have, of course, but it is a far cry from what everyone expects after they watched the film “Chak De”. Hold your horses people. The India women’s Hockey Team has girls from Haryana, Orissa, Punjab ( both defenders ), Karnataka and Manipur. ( The Hockey India website is abysmally low on information and the Pr wasn’t helpful either. Here’s a list I was able to scroung together based on what’s on the website and the names I could match with faces in my photographs.
Gurjit Kaur from Punjab, Defender
Sunita Lakra from Orissa, Forward
Punam Barla from Orissa, Forward
Amandeep Kaur from Punjab, Halfback
Jaspreet Kaur from Haryana, Defender
Ritusha Kumari Arya from Uttar Pradesh, Forward
Rajani Etimarpu from Andhra Pradesh, Goal Keeper
Deepika from Haryana, Halfback
Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam from Manipur, Halfback
Ponnamma Mallamada Narendra from Karnataka, Halfback
Poonam Rani from Haryana, Forward
Anuradha Devi Thockchom from Manipur, Forward
Ritu Rani from Haryana, Forward ( current Captain )
Vandana Kataria from Uttar Pradesh, Forward
Rani from Haryana, Forward
Savita Punia from Haryana, Goal Keeper
Yogita Bali from Punjab, Goal Keeper
Lilima Minz from Orissa, Forward
Navjot Kaur from Haryana, Forward
Anupa Barla from Orissa, Forward
Deep Grace Ekka from Orissa, Defender
Namita Toppo from Orissa, Halfback
Lily Chanu Mayengbam from Manipur, Forward
Monika Malik from Haryana, Halfback
Nikki Pradhan from Jharkhand, Forward
( I’m not sure which girls are part of the team that has qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics. ) I was interested in photographing the team, seeing what their day was like first-hand. I couldn’t find much online or in print about the Indian Women’s Hockey Team and wanted to be able to present that from my perspective. Here it is. I’ll try to explain / share details of whatever you see in the photos because it is nice to have *some* context.
The girls stay at the R. K. Khanna Tennis Stadium at Safdarjung Enclave. I reached at about 0730 hours. The team had been informed that someone from the “media” would be following them around for a day. I had been granted access to breakfast, bus trip, practice session on the field but had not received access to their personal spaces / rooms / locker rooms etc. Considering this was my first time interacting with them, I didn’t push for those and was happy with whatever we could work out. From the R. K. Khanna Stadium, we would leave on a bus for the MDC National Stadium where the girls would be practising / training.
Breakfast was bananas, boiled eggs, plain omelettes, toast, tea, butter. I tried very hard not to photograph the players while they were eating but wanted to take some shots for context.
The bus was waiting for the team outside and we walked toward it. The team boarded the bus with their kits.
Some of the girls even carried a bit of food on the bus. ( My Mom’s looking at the photos while I’m typing this. She says the uniform they had during ’68-’69 was a white t-shirt/shirt meld – it was like a collared t-shirt but with buttons running down its front. Half sleeves. A “bushirt”. And the shorts were white too. )
I was feeling quite awkward because I felt like an intruder. It was really early in the morning and I was aware that after the tentative Rio Olympics qualifier news, the team had been getting media requests. During their hectic routine, the team also had to make time for people like me. The reason I got in touch and tried to pursue this was because of my Mom having Hockey in her history and then when I reached out to Poonam Rani Malik on Twitter, she was enthused about the idea as well. She’s the one who put me in touch with the team’s PR ( AdFactors ). At least I had ONE person I could speak with on the bus! I was VERY grateful for that. I kept expecting to be hazed at any moment. Luckily that did not happen – not in the way I was expecting it at least 😉
As we got closer to our destination, some of the girls started prepping – wearing socks and shoes, etc. During the short ride, there was very little banter. One conversation was about exchanging songs on their mobile phones.
It was hot and humid but I did not expect it to get scorching. A wide open sky and no shelter. I was soon going to find out how ill-prepared I was for spending a day with the team.
Above, Ritu Rani, the Captain.
The girls started with a few rounds of the MASSIVE stadium. The goal keepers had a different warm-up routine.
The three goal keepers above : L to R : Yogita Bali, Savita Punia and Rajani Etimarpu.
Meanwhile the Coach ( Mathias Ahrens ) and Assistant Coach started preparing for the drills and practice sessions. Also present on-field were the Team’s psychologist and physiotherapist.
Above, goal keeper Savita Punia, in full gear, all set for the practice session. By now, I’d started to feel the heat – I was wide-eyed looking at the layers of gear the goal keepers were in.
I wasn’t carrying any water to drink either and protocol dictates you can’t ask for water from the Team’s supply because theirs is limited. Luckily I got a sip or two from the Coach / Physiotherapist’s supply. Animesh, who was handling my media / PR interaction with the team, was around luckily and got a couple of bottles of water from the canteen nearby – the small juice tetrapak was also VERY appreciated.
I was wearing my FitBit Charge HR. My heart rate was 150. When I was only crouching at the edge of the green with my camera. A cap / hat would’ve been nice – a half-shaved head worsens heat absorption. I could no longer comprehend how the girls were doing ANYTHING in that heat let alone physical exertion of ANY sort. I was insane.
Assitant Coach in red and Head coach in white above. They have an equation going, which an outsider like me can only wonder about. The Head coach speaks in English – giving instructions on what the drills are and what he expects the players to do. The Assistant Coach translates in Hindi so that the players can understand. Some players are better at understanding what the coaches are telling them and relay the message to the rest of the girls.
By now, some of the girls had warmed up to having me around. My shooting style is more fly-on-the-wall than interactive. I prefer to allow my subjects to do whatever they would’ve done had I not been around. After I’d walked onto the field, Animesh came running to me to tell me I couldn’t go beyond the white border. That was the first instance of “hazing”. The girls had told me I could go on the field to get a better shot 😉
A bit of the team was now taking a break and I felt I could approach them for a selfie, which I did and they obliged. They then told me I should take a selfie with the team and Mathias ( the Head Coach ). Without realizing that this was another attempt at their hazing me, I leapt up with glee and bounded to Mathias and waved my phone in his face squealing “Selfie?” The practice session wasn’t done yet and he, understandably, refused. I shrugged my shoulders and the girls giggled. Heh. Ooops.
The girls then got onto the field and started wrapping up all the drill equipment. Some of the Hockey Balls had been hit into the stands and a couple of players scanned for those.
Coach Mathias eyeing me above. He asked me if I’d come again and I told him I hadn’t thought about it. I’ll go again if they’ll have me. But I want a selfie the next time 😀
The girls do this practice session TWICE every day except weekends. If Animesh hadn’t fetched those bottles of water and that juice box, I probably would have passed out. I can’t imagine how hectic things would be now that their ticket to the Rio Olympics in 2016 has been confirmed. I look forward to seeing more people and brands getting involved in this journey with the team. The girls could use a LOT more time in the spotlight. When brands send free shit to us bloggers, I’m sure they could send a whole lot more to a National Sports team. If you’re a brand manager who is going to do this, email me. I will come and photograph the players wearing your gear. ( Currently, Shiv Naresh sponsors some of the team’s clothes / gear. )
Looking forward to doing this again sometime soon. Maybe get to know the girls better at an individual level.