This piece began its life as that millennial essential called the "Listicle." Rhyming with icicle or popsicle, that digestible lovable mesh of list and article. On the advent of International Women's Day, five of India's finest women athletes or seven magnificent moments for Indian women's sport or such like.
Except that, from a long working life, it is hard to sift a mere handful of women or a smattering of achievements because it would mean leaving out many. Far too many, whether they were big names on the grand stage or those whose contests are still being played out in the recesses of memory.
Like the women boxers in Delhi's winter mist sparring under the hulking stands of Nehru Stadium. Or shalwar-kameez-headscarf-clad volleyball players warming up during opening ceremony formalities at a local sports event in Bandipora, J&K. Then there was the clatter of hockey sticks as girls went for it at a school playground on the road to Simdega in Jharkhand. Or the gunshot-snap of an overhead smash ringing out at the MSLTA tennis courts in Mumbai. Anonymous, ostensibly insignificant.
Yet each of them, as former India cricket captain Mamatha Maben described it in another context, become a layer of "bricks on the foundation" put in place by their predecessors. Independent India sent four women to Helsinki Olympics in 1952; in Rio there were 54, the most there had ever been.
Every woman athlete in India emerges a conquistadora of her personal empire created out of both network and minefield of family, neighbourhood, community and peer group. She stands on the shoulders of goddesses who preceded her and in my generation the lineage has stretched from Usha to Anju, Aparna, Anjali, Suma, Sania, Saina, Mithali, Rani, Mary, Sindhu, Geeta, Sakshi, Dipa.
"Look closely and watch the competitor emerge. Through a frown that draws in the darkness of rainclouds or the sudden sound of a short, sharp cry. Or the rapid intake of breath and the flaring of the nostrils that turns her into a Fury."
Marking international women's week by constructing a listicle to start with, then, is like looking at a rapidly-growing, strongly-rooted mighty structure and highlighting a handful of bricks with DayGlo paint. Among the cavalcade of Indian women athletes through time, there will be champions and there will be competitors.
What I will always anticipate and delight in, though, is the point in time when, in the throes of contest, our women athletes switch on what I call their Fight Face. Not the conventional "game face" as we know it but the instant when their unintrusive "together" persona falls away and the athlete stands revealed. It is like sighting the familiar in a vast crowd - hello there, I see you!
Take note of an Indian woman athlete stepping up to compete anywhere. Largely, she will choose composure over swagger. Her clothes will be unobtrusive, less form-fitting than her international adversaries. Her face will be mostly impassive, expressionless, orientally inscrutable. No matter which part of the country she belongs to, her general serenity will reach into antiquity. Look long enough and you will see it reflected in sculpture or painting from hundreds of years ago.
During the competition, though, there will arrive the moment of transformation. It will happen when a point or a game is lost or an advantage is snatched away or there may be an unexpected explosion of pain from a physical challenge. Look closely and watch the competitor emerge. Through a frown that draws in the darkness of rainclouds or the sudden sound of a short, sharp cry. Or the rapid intake of breath and the flaring of the nostrils that turns her into a Fury, the sideways glance of the dagger look that says, the next time, sister, it's in your ribs.
As if that unflappable gaze earlier belonged to a prosthetic face-mask which has been stripped away and flung onto the floor. It is the Fight Face and it says bring it on - in various forms.
Usha conveyed it frozen-cold. Rani communicates it by setting her jaw when moving forward at top speed. When things got tight for Sania, she would put down her racket and tie her hair atop her head; Saina's over-the-shoulder stare could drill steel. Dipa tilts her chin.
From now on, look out for the Fight Face. Every girl's got one. They have needed it to take Indian women's sport to where it is today. It is how our women athletes have broken on through to the other side. Past the ordinary life, past stereotype, past restriction, past resistance, past history, beyond time.
Here's to you, then, every stripe of athlete, girl and goddess, champion and contender. Take a bow on March 8 and go seize every day.