Bengaluru, March 22: Lalremsiami was puzzled. The India hockey forward from Mizoram didn't understand what she was being asked. The question was in hindi and the 17-year-old could barely speak the language or grasp english. She just nodded her head and coach Harendra Singh was further incensed at the response. She spent the rest of that 2017 Asia Cup match on the bench and only later explained to the new women's team coach that she was not eloquent in hindi.
Now, Lalremsiami, fondly called Siami by her teammates, doesn't require the mizo-to-hindi translator all the time and keeps it locked in the cupboard - she can speak a bit of Punjabi as well. Hailing from a humble background in Kolasib, Mizoram, which is four hours away from the state capital Aizawl, Lalremsiami has struggled all her life to understand basic things - hindi, english and what the Commonwealth Games is. "I didn't know about the Commonwealth Games until Rani (Rampal) didi told me about it in Korea recently. Now, I know the magnitude of the Games," Lalremsiami, who is part of the 18-woman squad for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, says in broken hindi.
Captain Rani, who agreed to be Lalremsiami's roommate to teach her hindi, says the 17-year-old kept jumping on the bed after knowing she had made the cut for the trip to Gold Coast. Lalremsiami was laughing by herself and almost gave her a scare, Rani adds.
"I share a room with her," Rani says. "She logs in her daily activities everyday in a diary. She reads the bible a lot and she also refers to the Mizo-Hindi-English dictionary if she can't understand a complicated word. She inspires me to read more. I was young and shy when I came into the team and she reminds me of myself."
But the beginning was difficult for Lalremsiami. She joined the senior team camp last year and stood idle even as her teammates ran around to connect with passes. The commands were being given in a mix of hindi and english and it was a barrier for Lalremsiami.
Harendra then devised a plan.
"I use hockey terminology and practically show her what those words mean," the coach says. "For example, words like baseline, forehand and inside-close are terms we use on the pitch and she knows what they mean and what is expected of her when we say that.
"I draw from my time in Europe where most clubs have players who speak different languages, yet play together as a team. Lalremsiami needs to be told slowly what is expected of her.
"One of the things we did was make Rani her roommate. We haven't asked her to join any class because the teammates are the best teachers."
How could Lalremsiami know hindi anyway? She learnt only mizo in her school in Kolasib. The first time she went to Aizawl was to join the academy there, which would also comprise Mizo players. It was only when she was shortlisted for the National Hockey Academy in New Delhi that Lalremsiami first heard hindi words and ventured out of Mizoram.
"I was very nervous during my first camp in 2016 in Delhi," Lalremsiami says. "I didn't know anything other than my name. I started by learning small words first. I now know a little bit of Punjabi as well."
In a team that comprises mostly hindi-speaking players, Lalremsiami knows that she has to grasp the language quickly in order to survive. But from being an inactive spectator, Lalremsiami has now developed - in just a year - to claim 'bahut accha' are her favourite hindi words.
"Initially when I came into the team, I didn't know the language at all so I would find it very difficult to communicate," Lalremsiami says. "The players helped me a lot. They had a lot of patience in explaining to me.
"During practice, I used to ask around players what the coach meant. But now, I have picked up the key words. In case they speak fast, I ask them to repeat again."
But when she takes the pitch in the Commonwealth Games, her hindi will anyway not be a drawback for her or the team - Lalremsiami will let her hockey do the talking.