For 26-year-old Indian Hockey captain, Rani Rampal, who made India proud, despite the team missing by a whisker in the Tokyo Olympics held this year, the journey has been anything but easy. Her father, Rampal Singh, who put his all to support her, despite being a daily wager in Shahbad, recalls the tough times that the family endured, including the regressive outlook of the society. In a heart to heart with Rohan Dua, he speaks of his dreams, expectations from the society and pride in his daughter.
(RD = Rohan Dua; R = Rampal)
RD: The way Rani Rampal has led the Indian Women’s Hockey team to laurels is nothing short of amazing in today’s day and age. But if you look back — from 2014 to today — what have been your expectations of Rani and how has she lived up to them?
R:As a proud parent, I can say that Rani has met all our expectations that we have had of her. The team missed the Olympic medal by a very small margin, but the way the girls worked hard and reached that semi-final stage is nothing short of an accomplishment. It is after 41 years that the women’s hockey team has reached that stage and I am very sure that they will do better in the future. Winning and losing is part of the game. More than a loss, I see this as a win. Our Women’s Hockey team has earned more love and appreciation than India’s medal winners. I would like to thank everyone for this.
RD: When I first met you in 2014, you used to pull a cart for a meagre Rs 100-Rs 300 and transport bricks. If we compare those times to today, how have things changed for Rani, especially in terms of lifestyle? Does she still ride an Activa scooter in Shahbad?
R: Those were tough times. We could not even afford a bicycle, let alone a scooter. We are not an educated family. But Rani’s love for the sport started young. She was in class 5 when she first showed interest in hockey. I remember there used to be a ground adjacent to her school and Sardar Baldev Singh Ji used to teach hockey to the girls. That was when she started insisting that she too wanted to play hockey. And despite us expressing our inability to cover the financials, she insisted we meet up with the coach. At the first glance, Baldev Singhji ruled that she was too weak to play hockey. However, he agreed to teach her for the next 5-7 days and track her progress.
Those were the days when society saw daughters as a burden. I have always been of a different view. I feel that daughters can achieve so much more. They can easily beat the boys at any game. Teach your daughters well and let them take up whichever sport they wish to. Your financial status may change over time. But, if we take the initiative and support our daughters, even Gods are kind enough to lend support. As for us, we faced a lot of problems. From neighbours to relatives and the world, everyone was discouraging. They would raise eyebrows and point fingers at Rani’s hockey attire — shorts and t-shirts. But Rani held her ground and in the end, we just had to give in and allow her to play hockey.
How much was your earning then?
I used to earn between Rs 100 and Rs 150 as a daily wage worker. And with that amount, I used to support the entire family. Coach Baldev Singh Ji helped us with the stick, the kit and diet for Rani. I would really like to thank him for making Rani what she is today. We owe it to him big time.
RD: Between you and your wife, who has made a bigger contribution?
R: A fight such as this can only be won with the support of both the parents. But yes, if you ask me, her mother has had a bigger role to play in terms of ensuring that she could focus on her training and discipline. If Rani had her practice at 5 in the morning, then she would wake up at 4 am and make sure that Rani was ready in time. She supervised her diet and made sure she ate well. My job was to drop her off at the grounds for practice.
RD: How has your lifestyle changed from the time that you were a daily wage worker?
R: God has been kind. Today, we have all that we need. We are especially blessed to have a daughter like Rani. And I pray others too are blessed with children such as her. As I keep saying, we must educate our daughters and ensure that they can follow their dreams from early in life and achieve what they want. Once they grow up, that opportunity may be lost.
RD: All these years, whenever there was a birthday, perhaps yours or your wife’s or Rani’s, how did you celebrate?
R: Rani was always in practice, even on her birthday. So greetings were exchanged over the phone. There really were no special celebrations at home. It was the same with all her teammates. They all celebrated her birthday together and we blessed them from home.
RD: Which is the best gift that you have given Rani or vice versa?
R: What can be a better gift? Because of Rani, our family has won great respect from the society. She has made India proud and the entire country is with us in celebration. She has fulfilled the dream and the needs of the entire family.
RD: Now that you no longer have to work as a daily wager and have stopped pulling the cart, how do you spend the day?
R: I have a lot of time at hand, now that my girls are doing well. The schools have been shut because of the coronavirus pandemic.
RD: Rani must have received many proposals for marriage, what has been your reaction?
It is entirely upon Rani to take a decision on marriage. She does not wish to get married right away and wants to focus on the game. We have no issues with that. In fact, she has our full support.
RD: As I look around, the walls of this room are adorned with memories and memorabilia. The pictures of Rani with the country’s tall leaders such as our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, and former President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee are proudly displayed. Have you received support from other leaders?
R: For us, all politicians and ministers are the same. All of them have responded well and we have no tall expectations.
RD: The Prime Minister reached out personally to each of the players post the Tokyo Olympics match. It was an emotional moment and Rani was clearly left teary eyed, as were others. What was your reaction to that moving moment?
R: The team gave their all. When you are so close to victory, and miss out on your goal, the disappointment is bound to be huge. Everyone gets impacted. The team worked really hard, especially in the last 4 years, to reach where they did. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for motivating them. It was really heartening to see him personally congratulate the team and share encouraging words.
RD: When Rani came back from Tokyo, the mood was celebratory. She was honoured in Delhi. How did you all celebrate in Shahbad?
R: We celebrated with pomp and ‘dhol’! We distributed sweets around town. When we went to receive her in Delhi, it made us proud to see how everyone showered their love and the media lauded their accomplishment. We are greatly touched. In fact, we are still celebrating. We see this as a win and we celebrate it as a win.
RD: This definitely has motivated and set the path for the future?
R: This reception is great motivation for all the kids who dream of being a part of the national team. As these girls would pass the baton in time, this feat that has been achieved by the women’s hockey team would be well remembered. They will benefit from this. We hope that God blesses the world with such hardworking and dedicated daughters who make the parents proud.
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