When one gets to live in a different part of our country, one is thrown into a different milieu, one becomes more perceptive and sensitive to the culture, traditions of the local people. Living in Assam and in the midst of colleagues from Manipur, I’ve been fortunate to get a closer view of their life. It gave me an opportunity to know better their heroes and role models. About the same time, Mary Kom was very much in the news; a movie based on her life was released. This piqued my interest in her life.
To know of her origins and how she reached where she is now, one would have to know her life story. The Priyanka Chopra starring movie, Mary Kom, supposedly a biopic based on her life, disappointingly meanders into a tepid sports drama. It was at M’s suggestion that I started to read her autobiography, “Unbreakable”.
The book, comprising 17 chapters in loose chronological order, deals with different aspects of her life – early childhood and schooling, training, gradual rise in her career, her personal life and marriage, insurgency in Manipur, pregnancy and motherhood, return to boxing, achievements, awards and recognition, politics in the sports administration, her Olympic bronze and setting up of her boxing academy.
Mary Kom is the first-born of Mangte Tonpa Kom of Sagang and Saneikham of Kangathei. Her father, one of 6 children, was a landless labourer and her mother, who also came from a large family, was a home-maker.
She had a tough childhood, waking up early to help in the paddy fields and then walking to school. During holidays, the children were assigned other tasks, such as collecting wood from the forest. She mentions that her father made it a point to put them through school despite their straitened means.
During school, though average in studies, she exhibited an interest in sports and related activities. Though initially reluctant, her father agrees to her concentrating on sports – there was a possibility of getting a job through the sports quota. Athletics did not appeal to her, so she moved to boxing and trained under different coaches of SAI and MABA. Though the schedule was gruelling she does it without any complaints. The book goes on to narrate her steady climb to the top of women’s boxing.
At the time of her rise to fame, she gets several proposals from prospective grooms, but she marries Onler, a close confidante and friend, after initial opposition from her father. After a break from boxing when she delivers twins, she returns to the boxing ring and resumes her career, winning accolades and awards on the way. Winning the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics was the high point of her career. She has been awarded all the major sporting awards. She was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 2013. She runs a boxing academy in Imphal. At 31, (even while I was reading Unbreakable), she won the Gold medal in her category at the Asian Games in Incheon, S Korea. Her aspiration is to win a gold at the 2016 Olympics.
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- It is an unemotional account of her life from her humble beginning to the star that she became. I found it attractive that there is no drama in the narration.
- The book gives us a peek at life in Manipur, its culture, its people, way of life -farming, hunting and fishing. One quaint custom is the “tea-boiling” ceremony – the groom’s side makes tea for the bride’s family by way of asking for her hand. If the bride’s family accepts the proposal, they drink the tea.
- The writing is simple and easy to read. Full credit to Dina Serto who co-wrote this book.
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- What I found most striking about her is her near total non-emotional attitude to life. If you look at her life she goes through so many situations, which could be looked at negatively and be the reason for quitting. For example, despite her tough childhood, she never complains about it, she just describes it as it is and accepts it as such; in fact ,she says that her childhood toughened her for her life in boxing. Similarly she discusses the groupism, rivalry and politics inherent in the boxing officialdom, without taking sides or blaming anyone. She again accepts the situation and follows a path that takes her forward. Her marriage too seems to be one of convenience, where she chooses to marry her long time friend, confidante and well-wisher who would support her in her career.
- She thanks all the people who have helped her get to where she is. She hardly says anything negative about persons.
- Her absolute faith in God which gave her the mental strength to face the challenges of her life.
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- Despite her stupendous achievements and awards, it is surprising she isn’t in the limelight of the public at large. One wonders if this has anything to do with her coming from a remote part of India or the less importance given to sports like boxing.