Sandeep Singh celebrates a goal against France during the Olympic qualifying men's hockey match in New Delhi. PTI Photo by Aman Sharma
The player of the tournament is looking quite bewildered. He can't figure out why his phone just won't stop ringing. Or, what to do with the three cakes that someone has sent to his room; or just what all the legal jargon is in the contract that a player management agency has asked him to sign; or how to say no to a hounding media that can't get enough of him.
And, most vexing of all, how to get back all the numbers he lost after his phone slipped away in the crush of the after-victory party. Laptops are for playing Punjabi music, backup of data too much of a grapple to figure. Sardar is old school to a fault and that's perhaps the most endearing bit about him.
His roommate and the highest goal-scorer in the Olympic qualifiers, Sandeep Singh, bounds into the room muttering his disdain for the inanities thrown at him by a TV crew. But Sandeep and Sardar are poles apart. It's the drag-flicker's wont to hit in hard and fast when the opening presents itself. He's not backing down now.
"The more the publicity, the better for us."
He is the brains of the friendship, the street-smart sharp-shooter who's juggling between calls that offer a juicy deal for the sticker on the twosome's hockey sticks, a potential ad for a two-wheeler major, and another for a liquor brand.
"This is our moment; we must make the best of it. Sponsor interest is fickle and we need to seal deals while we occupy their mind space."
Hospitality is a Punjabi trait that does not find as much expression in the adrift urban milieu. These two, however, are rooted. Sardar rustles up tea - heavy on milk and sugar - and insists his guests guzzle cans of energy drink.
"They put a guard on the lift as just too many people were marching up to the room," he smiles a bit mystified.
"We have been staying here over a month, no one bothered earlier."
The ups and downs
The two have been splashed across papers; even as we sit there, their images beam across TV channels. Yet, they don't begin a sentence sans the Punjabi honorific 'phaaji' (big brother).
"Phaaji, this is the same hotel that we left with our heads hanging low just six months ago when we had been banned by the federation. Even the staff wouldn't look us in the eye at the time. Who can predict the ups and downs of life?" smiles Sandeep, the relief of being back as pivotal components of the Indian team apparent on his face.
All talk of joining the World Series of Hockey draws a horrified shake of the head. Apparently, representatives of the League tried to lure the duo again but the pull of the Olympics is too much of a siren song as of now. In fact, Sandeep's Olympic rings tattoo is very much the envy of the squad.
"We are just waiting for the official announcement of the Olympic team. A lot of the boys are going to get the same one. I certainly will," beams Sardar.
"We'll have his jazzed up a bit," adds Sandeep, ever the guiding hand for his fellow Haryana police deputy superintendent.
The leash in the pocket pulls and a mail from team sponsor Sahara has landed.
The news of fresh manna is greeted with whoops of joy; frenetic calculations are done to figure just how much their worth has grown. A phone call informs that each will get Rs. 11 lakh. The by-now sizeable entourage hurls expletives in surprise and joy; backslaps resound.
Attention is lured by the cricket that someone has tuned in to. The hockey-wallahs in the room have no desire to watch the sport. But then Virat Kohli seems to be making a valiant stand.
"Eh munde wich dum hai (the boy's got spirit)," says Sandeep and asks the hand on the remote to hold.
Hockey players are far fitter than cricketers, aren't they? The teaser has the desired effect.
"We can have a race with them any day. We will have to run backwards though, for otherwise they may not be able to keep up!"
After the guffaws subside comes the realisation that a pen is moving across paper.
"Don't quote us on that! Actually, go ahead, its true only ji."
The glass panes threaten to shatter to the peals that follow.
"But there is one major department they seem to be ahead in," one can't help but tease, "they seem to have more women hanging around them."
Sly smiles are exchanged. Some things aren't meant for print.