Rio Olympics: did Sindhu lose the gold medal, or did India?

India loses to Spain in the Badminton women’s singles finals at the Rio Olympics on Friday, 19th August 2016. 21-19 to India, 21-12 to Spain and 21-15 to Spain. India did its best, but Spain had more experience. India did put up a good fight, even if its chances of winning were slim after the second game.

Let’s amend that. P V Sindhu loses to Carolina Marin in the Badminton women’s singles finals at the Rio Olympics, not India to Spain. Sindhu did her best, but Carolina certainly had more experience to fall back on than her. No one verbally dismisses Sindhu or Carolina in place of their countries really. But think about why this match was so important to us (ever thought of why you use the collective pronoun when you’re counting yourself with more than one billion people you don’t even know?). Okay, let’s state the obvious, if only to drive Sheldon Cooper nuts. Sindhu was India’s first badminton player to become a medallist of any sort in the Olympics. India’s first, mind you. That’s why you give up an hour of your precious life to watch a game, with clenched fists, taking place on the other side of the world.

None of this truly enters your head when you’re sitting down in front of a big TV at work. Yes, at work, around the big table in the conference room. No, you don’t have Satellite TV, but Hotstar is your saviour for the day. You can’t go anywhere because it’s raining, and the boss has ordered vada pav for all of you in a warm fit of kindness. So you wait, and you watch. You watch the Indian girl stand her ground in formidable opposition in the first game. You watch her inch forward, lose ground, inch forward again. By the time she wins by two points, you’re hooting and clapping with the others, whether you call yourself an agnostic when it comes to patriotism or not.

There are two women contesting in the match (sorry about the obvious again, Sheldon). There are also two feminine entities pitted against one another outside of the game: the player - who’s looked at as feminine by the simple attribute of being female - and the nation - Mother India, Bharat Mata. Sindhu stands for the nation, and if she loses, she lets down India too. In contrast, whatever the outcome of the match, the glory of Mother India remains intact. If Sindhu wins, the nation bags her victory for its own. If she loses, the loss is the individual’s, and the Mother remains untouched by it. Paradox much? The woman is life blood, Mata is ideology, yet Mata matters more than woman. You know who wins in a tussle between womanism and patriarchy.

By the second game, you can’t keep your seat. You suck air through your teeth every single time Sindhu misses or go “ooohhhhh!” along with the others. Why is she giving up, asks the boss. That’s a simple shot she missed, she could easily have got it! You’re watching about three minutes behind real time – however awesome Hotstar is, it has its limits, it isn’t Satellite television. On the side, your colleague is getting live updates on his phone, so you know what the score is even before you watch the match. At first, you snap at him to keep the spoilers at bay, but towards the end of the third game, you simply listen to the score with a plummeting stomach whenever he announces it (please, just tell me the score and relieve me of my misery, groans the boss).

But when Carolina smashes her last shot and lands Sindhu on her back, your throat suddenly clots up. Not for the loss the Indian medallist faces or for the disappointment you feel in the collective emotion of the nation. When Carolina’s knees buckle, forehead touching grass in sheer relief, you want to join her as she’s racked with sobs (you blink 55 times in quick succession instead). At long last, you don’t see the villainous Spaniard who defeated your beloved Indian, even when the boss comments that she’s stolen our medal, all the while munching his vada pav. You see a woman who’s worked very hard at the sport she loves and has achieved, with her own sweat and muscle, the highest honour in the world. And you’re prouder still of your beloved Indian, who pats the winner on her back, shakes her hand and embraces her. You feel the mush in your chest babbling about the humanness of the players, the spirit of the game and the strength of the woman.

So, congratulations, Carolina, for the gold. And congratulations, Sindhu, for the silver. You really didn’t let anyone down, we promise.