Book Review-Unbreakable- M C Mary Kom
She has been a constant fixture in boxing in Indian arena. Boxed her way to glories despite her size. When the book, and eventually the movie came out, world noticed the struggle behind her smile and success. Her auto-biography reveals the real stories behind the enormous clout and change that she brought in for the boxing, women sports and north east perception in the psyche of the Indians.
M C Mary Kom, has had a very poor upbringing but all her hard work that she did from the child bore fruit via her boxing glory in later years. Her dad was insurmountable in her success by instilling the discipline in her life. All the farm work that she did in her younger years, built the core to withstand the punches for later years. The family of hers were landless, poor and in Manipur which is north eastern part of the country.
Being a girl, diminutive in size, you had all odds stacked up against her. Throw in an urban environment or a northern part of the country, you get some level up, you are taller in stature, you can fight good, if you are a male, society and family encourages you more, and if you have other India worthy sports profession aka cricket, athletics, you get sponsors and limelight. But you set aside all such things, and give your nation a bronze medal in boxing in London Olympic games. Not for comparison, but other single person medals won by sportspersons in India, have come under enormous cost borne by their rich parents. One of the few medals to be won by single person event for 130 crore nation.
She also reasons her that since her mom is tall, and others were teasing that if only you were taller like your mother, you could have fought well and brought more glory. She asserts it would have been helpful, but nevertheless to settle on such criticism, she rose above all to win accolades for the nation. How many women or men in the world taller than her 5ft 2 inches can lay claim to the glory and the punches she landed in her career. It is never about the height of your body, but always the stature of your hard work and achievements.
It was said that Priyanka Chopra made more money acting as Mary Kom in a movie than what Mary Kom made in her entire professional career. No offense to Priyanka, for films attract more audience attention and hence advertisement money whereas boxing bouts do not attract enough eye balls. It is never the intensity of the sport but the ability to market it matters for the long term health of it. NFL, which has been built as a huge franchisee is a testament to that, massive stadium, huge money, merchandise for a sport that is only played in US and not even an Olympic Sport. Awareness is picking up, but more needs to be done. Many rival leagues popped up like Kabbadi league, Badminton league, football derbies but all are compared to the giant cricket in TRP and hence toned down after a few seasons.
Mary Kom was a devout Christian, she says that she never missed Sunday church sessions, and despite their poverty they never lost faith in god, and also she still goes for Sunday fasting prior to her crucial matches, wherever part of the world she is in. All the 1 hour trek to her school made her legs strong. Her father trained them to work hard from young age. Mary ploughed the field, something that is not easy even for boys, and also controlling the bullocks. Kom’s father was a village wrestling champion, maybe genes kicked in for her to excel in sports. She was a champion marble player, all these tiny things compounded from her younger age, once she got selected boxing as her profession. Dogged spirit carried her through the years.
She tried her hand or rather leg at athletics but quit due to long commute via cycle, but she kept the core training exercises. She was so self conscious about her boyish appearance and mingling with more boys than girls her age due to the skewed sex ratio in Manipur and also her interest in sports. Her drive to success was so strong that it drove away any apprehension. She was keen on individual sports rather than team sport and rest is history. As they say you can only connect the dots backward and not forward. Her interest in action movies, fighting spirit, focus on individual sport, reluctance to pursue athletics/gymnastics and focus on boxing proved a game winner.
She also had politics battlefield to cross, being in a country like India. Dingko Singh a boxer from Manipur was dropped from Nationals but went on to win the Asian Games, something like the Irudi Sutru movie.6 hours of grueling daily training, and she discovered that she was a born boxer via her coach Oja Ibomcha. She fondly remembers all her coaches during her earlier years and also about the boxing nexus between federations. Her punches were too much for the girls, so her sparring partners were boys of her weight and ofless age.
Like all fathers, her father did not like his daughter being in a blood sport and worried that her daughter might she gets stitches and will not have money to fix it and also no one will marry her. Her parents worked more than ever to help her. She had no stipend, no proper accommodation, association politics, and lack of diet. Despite these herculean hurdles, Mary punched above her height and weight. She christened herself Mary to signify her Christian faith and it was also easy to pronounce. Her parents were more like her friends, she had a fit body and fitter mind to pursue sports in the hope of bagging a sports quota government job.
She recounts many instances of pickpocketing, losing all her money, Kom community members helping her in Bangalore and Chennai. Her story is a gritty tale of how a boxer from Manipur sealed her glory firmly in the world boxing map. Since her appetite was good, it was tough to maintain the same weight. She loses her bag, she loses her money, she loses her passport but never her zeal.
Indomitable spirit was what she was made of, Imagine a poor athlete from Manipur losing her hard earned money, every time, and her parents have to knit a sweater all night along in bad kerosene light to give her the money. Such a hardworking regimen of parents who had a principle of never borrowing even for their basic needs, toiling day and night to fulfil her dreams, selling of their only cow to fund her aspirations. Such people are the fabric of our nation.
It is amazing to note that her hard work and fierce discipline coupled with her belief system helped her. She is a believer of god, her parents, and leverages emotions to her advantage. First loss in Bangkok, and then her first silver medal win in USA, are all detailed in the book and brings moisture in your eyes. Definitely her story is of grit, but more than that it is a story of emotion roller coaster. She clearly states that her sporting achievements are needed for her small tribe and Kom community.
It helps to popularize the culture and ethos. The prize money of 9 lacs took almost a year to be given tells the poor state of affairs of sports in our country. It was only befitting that she spent little for her, buying a paddy field for her father, education for her siblings, and also a small amount to Manipur boxing federation. This tells tales about the personal magnanimity of giving when she herself has little to share. Also explains about how Arjuna award and growing prominence of women boxing, boosted her ratings in marriage market.
Romance angle of a budding women sportsperson is also told, imagine a budding boxer forced to give up her passion for her marriage. We know of companies like Nike dropping endorsement for women athletes once they undergo pregnancy. Imagine for women sportsperson in India, where social stigma is high, and also nil sponsorship in a new age sports in the country. It is different custom in Manipur that groom’s family is required to pay the bride a price that woman’s family demands. Normally it is pair of bullocks or some money, but Mary’s father just wanted union of families. In their society, woman runs the home, even if she is career woman, kitchen is her domain. Mary learnt to run the house and also learn weaving from her mom.
The beauty about this book about how she boldly talks about her appearance, beauty, her ratings in the market, social customs, sports politics, and also loyalty to her husband. She states that behind her success is her husband, and marriage is a sacred commitment and she would never vow down from that. This is her roaring success and medal haul after the marriage as well and even after the birth of the kids.
Her dream of getting sports quota job fulfilled via a SI job after her world championship. Even when you have cold/fever during the tournament, you cannot take any medication on fear of doping charges. A sportsperson life in true colors is revealed via her auto biography. Father in law was assassinated by insurgents, and then husband had a change of mind, and eventually birth of her twins. She has had a very abnormal eventful life, no wonder she is a one woman wonder of boxing.
She has been nicknamed Magnificent Mary. Unaware of the water breaking during her pregnancy, they slept through the entire night only to be announced that caesarean delivery was the only solution to save her twins. Even at that juncture she was thinking about the unfinished business of Olympic Medal in boxing and how having that might hamper her boxing dreams. Now we understand how hard it is to succeed for woman in sports. Onler, her husband held fort at home, taking care of the duties.
She has missed all growing years of twins, but winning the fourth world championship gold in China was a booster shot for her confidence and tight slap to her naysayers, after her marriage and pregnancy. She also explains about her Padma award wins, and how she was brushed aside initially, and also the general north eastern sentiment by other Indians. Since they look more like Chinese and Vietnamese in their appearance they are chided for their remarks. It is very hurting for them, and it adds to the insurgents war cry of separatism from India. But Mary Kom has represented the nation in the world stage and is also very proud to do so.
She feels she has done her part in uplifting Indian Women Boxing and especially Manipur on the map. Their marital struggles, and how a simple thing of Mary beating her kids lightly for their small misconduct was chided by her husband. Onler reasoned that she might forget her strength and might hurt them badly. True indeed, but a chick does not die under the weight of a mother. Her China gold came amidst when her younger son was waiting in the ICU for a heart surgery.
Imagine the pain of a mother, so far away from home, yet she landed the punch and won the gold in boxing. With boxing being an individual sport, you know you are solely responsible for your win/loss in the game, unlike a team game. She is a fierce champion of child rights, saying they are the hope for our future. True words indeed. Right from being given a constable job in police and denying that, and then a SI, then being promoted as Inspector, and sixth world championship gold promoted her to ASP of police.
She details an entire chapter of nepotism among states, coaches and federation in women boxing. How rules are framed, and bouts won on the basis of favoritism. These are shocking truths, and when it comes from a player of her stature, you cannot but ignore them. At last Women boxing was included in Olympics, imagine a girl thinking of a medal in the event, when it was not even present as a sport, and then making the representation to make it happen and finally winning it at age 30. Since she had to compete in higher weight category, it was also said that because of her small size and weight, she would not stand a chance against taller boxers who were forced to reduce weight and compete with her. But one thing could not be taken away, was her experience and her spirit.
Charles the foreign boxer who was more a father figure to her, helped her win the Olympic medal. She asserts that, given her training under him, focused her energy and stamina for the game. It is a pretty emotional experience of how she yearns for the gold medal, and disservice done to the nation. She bags a bronze, after having fought valiantly against a much taller boxer. So much so for a tiny girl from Manipur hogging the global attention.
She gets a SP rank, 3 acres of land for her academy. It is genuine desire to uplift the sporting culture in the nation, that Mary Kom is working on now, preparing the life of many boxers for the country. She runs the MC Mary Kom academy of boxing completely free of charge for boxers.
Once a sportsperson, always a sportsperson, here is wishing her of producing more such sportspersons like her to bring glory to India.