There was a time when Mir Ranjan Negi had to shut his ears to the taunts of him betraying his country. That was after the debacle that was the 1982 Asian Games hockey final in Delhi that India lost 1-7 to Pakistan.
These days, as the world shakes off the inertia following the coronavirus-induced lockdown, the voice of the former India international has been music to the ears of listeners in his home town Indore. The goalkeeper hosted a five-minute audio narrative for the Acropolis Group of Institutions over 45 days, telling stories on diverse topics, from hockey lessons to life skills.
“I started two days after the lockdown was enforced and took a break on June 18,” says Negi.
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The audience for the morning talk show, which started at 7am, included students, parents and school management.
“The idea is to help listeners keep a positive outlook during the lockdown via real-life stories about people who overcame huge odds to come up in life,” says Negi, citing the examples of Olympic pistol shooter and national coach Mohinder Lal, hockey icon Dhanraj Pillay and hockey World Cupper Yuvraj Walmiki.
“There is an audience eager to hear stories from well-known sportspersons. All that is needed is the narrative should be done in a short time and using simple words. From the feedback received, listeners connect emotionally when an India player talks to them directly in the first person. It does not matter if he or she can talk fluently or not.”
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Negi and Mohinder Lal, who retired as a deputy inspector general of the Border Security Force, struck a close bond due to sports. “A reputed pistol shooter with a shooting hand so powerful that in training at the range he endured the weight of his two kids dangling on the arm, it is said he was so focused that once during a national championship when the pistol sight broke off, he blocked the negative vibes and shot his way to the gold medal,” says Negi. “I met him first due to my friendship with his brother Kulbhushan, my classmate at Christian College (Indore). A fierce competitor, Mohinder Lal was reputed to be an experienced sports administrator, full of energy.”
Pillay’s rise in world hockey from a humble background in Khadki in Maharashtra and Walmiki chasing his hockey dreams from Mumbai while living in a shack were other popular narratives.
Negi’s recovery from the emotional scars of the Delhi defeat to becoming a successful India women coach was reflected in scenes in Chak De! India , a hockey-themed film. Later came an invite to participate in Jhalak Dikhhla Ja , a celebrity dance show on television.
“I did my part in the goal for India over many tournaments. One bad match turned my world into a nightmare. I recovered to coach the national team, guiding the girls to victory at the Asia Cup (in Delhi) and the Afro-Asian Games (in Hyderabad),” says Negi.
Having moved base to Indore after a hockey career with Mumbai Customs, Negi helps out the Madhya Pradesh organisation’s sports and cultural activities. The goalkeeper-turned-coach learnt voice modulation techniques and improved his Hindi vocabulary before trying the audio route. “I tried to evolve as a person and currently am doing an online course on leadership,” he says.
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Negi also spoke about the value of sport in dealing with stress management in schools. The interactive video session was organised by Indore Schools. The webinar saw a parent questioning him about sports affecting studies due to the difficulty in managing time for both.
“The self-confidence from exposure to sport for children gets reflected in the way a student looks at life. Students have a better chance of becoming successful in their careers if they are street smart, learn to deal with teammates, coaches, opponents, and develop lifelong friendships through sport. All this cannot be understood by reading books only,” he says, citing India teammates Zafar Iqbal, M. M. Somaya and Merwyn Fernandes as examples of sporting achievers who reached high positions in their professional careers. “The key is to find out what you feel very passionate about. Once that happens, you will find a way and create time to do both.”
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For sports-minded schoolkids at home during the lockdown, Negi suggests visualisation as a way to keep the mind in touch with sport, alongside indoor workouts. “Sporting greats visualised their best moves before going out to compete. The human mind is so powerful that the body will obey a message from the brain when you step out on the pitch next time.”