It has been said that D'Souza's team has taken brotherhood too far. In January's Olympic qualifying tournament in Barcelona, after India had assured itself a trip to Atlanta, it played a last, miserable 0-0 match against Malaysia. The tie allowed the Malaysians to qualify for the Olympics at Canada's expense, and afterward Canadian coach Shiaz Virje, born in Kenya of Indian parents, alleged that six Indian players had conspired with Malaysia to fix the match. After an investigation the International Hockey Federation denied the protest "in the absence of hard evidence"—a ruling that Canadian officials described as "interpretive"—allowing suspicions to linger.
"We are confident that the Canadians are telling lies," says Mukesh Kumar, a striker on the Indian team. "Still, people ask, 'Did you do it or not?' "
D'Souza answers the question as if under oath. "No coach worth his salt would let that happen, and I would not let that happen as a person. My conscience is clear."
He can now attend to the task of restoring his nation's hockey glory. In at least one place, it has never really left, SANSARPUR HOCKEY ASSOCIATION, reads the plaque in a small tearoom off the village pitch, YOU HAVE DONE US PROUD. Beneath the legend is a list of Sansarpur's Olympians, who span more than half a century.
Outside, children as young as six practice on the pitch before school, hoping that one day their names will be hand-painted on the plaque. Their progress is assessed by three village elders—the youngest 80, the oldest 96—taking their morning constitutional.
Gajjat Singh is the youngest of this trio. His son Blbi played on India's bronze-medal-winning team at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Singh recalls that when British troops brought hockey to Sansarpur at the beginning of this century, "there was no curve in the hockey stick. It was just straight." He gestures to the canes with which he and his companions walk. "Like these. We played with a homemade cotton ball. At first we were not allowed to play on the pitch, because we were not very good. Then we became better than the soldiers." From that group Colonel Singh emerged as an Olympian in '32, and he inspired the next generation of Olympians, who in turn inspired the next.
One of those Olympians from Sansarpur, Ajit Pal Singh, speaks in the office of his gas station. Just outside the door his attendants cheer the Indian cricketers playing on a small black-and-white television. Singh marvels at sport's power to move people. Last year British television interviewed him for a piece on Sansarpur. It has since aired around the world.
"My youngest brother lives in Toronto," he says. "He turned on the TV one night and suddenly saw Sansarpur. He could not believe he was seeing it, this small village where we come from."
He should not have been surprised, for everything moves in cycles. It is a common tenet of Sikhism and Hinduism, and perhaps now of Indian field hockey: Death gives way to rebirth.