Updated: August 6, 2021 7:31:27 am
As toddlers, Simranjeet Singh and Gurjant Singh would often visit their paternal and maternal grandparents (same house and family) and spend time with them at village Chahal Kalan on the Mehta Chowk-Batala highway in Gurdaspur district. The cousins’ journey in hockey would start at the same academy near Batala in the early 2000s.
On Thursday morning, as the 24-year-old Simranjeet scored a brace in the bronze-medal playoff victory over Germany – one of them with an assist from Gurjant – his father Iqbal Singh would make phone calls from Pilibhit to their native places to share the joy.
“Today, two medals have come in our joint family. While the whole country celebrates the medal, we three families are celebrating the medal from afar. To see Simranjeet and Gurjant help India make history is the biggest joy for us. Simranjeet had been staying with my parents and elder brother since he was eight. He would visit us once in year. Today’s medal-winning moments have made all that worth it,” Iqbal told The Indian Express from Majhara village in Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh.
About 200m from the Singh household in Chahal Kalan is the Guru Nanak Hockey Academy run by some NRIs from the village where a young Simranjeet would learn the basics of hockey. While Gurjant would visit the Singh household too on his summer vacations, it was not until 2004 when Gurjant joined the Cheema Hockey Academy at village Shahbad near Batala that the families considered hockey as a career option.
✅ Opening goal
✅ Winning goal
✅ #Bronze #IND‘s Simranjeet scored big over #GER in the men’s hockey bronze medal match! #Tokyo2020 | #UnitedByEmotion | #StrongerTogether | #BestOfTokyo pic.twitter.com/2hIDzylDuK
— #Tokyo2020 for India (@Tokyo2020hi) August 5, 2021
Over time, the two would be a regular feature in village or district teams as junior players. “Gurjant would often cycle or come on bus to our academy from his maternal grandparents’ home and later joined the academy hostel. His ball control skills were very good and his balance on the field was something that prompted us to ask his family to send him to the Chandigarh Hockey Academy two years later. Gurjant had joined there a year earlier. The two shared a bond and Gurjant would never let any opposition player say anything to Simranjeet,” remembers coach Ranjeet Singh of the Cheema Academy.
It was in 2008 that Rashpal Singh, Simranjeet’s uncle, decided to send the youngster to Jalandhar’s Surjit Hockey Academy. “Whenever the cousins play together, we knew that they will score. It happened at the 2016 Junior World Cup final where both Simranjeet and Gurjant scored against Belgium and when Gurjant assisted Simranjeet today in the bronze-medal match, we knew India will win,” says Rashpal.
Simranjeet would train at the Surjit Hockey Academy with other players of the Indian hockey team and the well-built midfielder would play in the 2016 Junior World Cup along with Gurjant, helping India win the title. While the youngster has played more than 50 matches for India, coach Avatar Singh believes he would improve further. “When he initially came to the academy, we spent a lot of time making him learn the basics of being a defender as well as a midfielder. But his biggest strength was the force with which he hits the ball and he showed that in the first goal today. The second goal Simranjeet scored, it was an example of him anticipating the speed of the teammate, in this case Gurjant,” says Avtar.
At village Khalera, 30 kms away from Chahal Kalan, father Baldev Singh too has been getting calls to congratulate his son Gurjant as well as Simranjeet. The family owns seven acres of farmland and it was due to one of his maternal uncles Hardev Singh that Gurjant opted for hockey. “When Hardev asked him to play hockey as he will win medals, Gurjant happily followed. We have prayed for both the cousins apart from the Indian hockey team whenever a match takes place,” says Baldev.
As for 80-year-old grandmother Gurmeet Kaur, next week will be a time to prepare for the welcome of two of her grandsons. “Simmu (Simranjeet’s nickname) and Janta (Gurjant’s nickname) da medal mera hi nahi pure desh da hai (Their medal is not just for me but the entire country). Both of them like halwa made of pumpkin and the medal has added extra sweetness for our whole family,” she says from Pilibhit.