Given my longstanding fascination with North-East India, one of the primary settings for my 386-page labor o’ love, I’ve been following Mary Kom’s boxing career for a good while now. The 27-year-old mother of twins just won her fifth world championship, a feat that earned her a true hero’s welcome in her native state of Manipur—a welcome that included a fat one million rupee reward, courtesy of the Manipuri government. The BBC recounts how Kom, nicknamed “Magnificient Mary,” first came to don the gloves:
“When I was small, I was very interested in fighting – karate, kung fu and boxing. I used to always watch action movies, all the Jackie Chan movies,” [Kom] says breaking into peals of laughter.
She grew up in the Manipur countryside amidst lush green paddy fields with mountains swelling in the distance. Her parents still work in the fields, as she once did.
It was a tough upbringing in a state hit by a violent insurgency. Even our presence brought soldiers out from the neighbouring army base…
“She never told us she’d taken up boxing,” her father Tonpa tells me.
“We only found out when we read in the papers of her success in a local competition. In fact, I didn’t really want to encourage her to become a sportsperson because I thought it would cost a lot of money, more than we could afford.”
One striking thing about Kom’s celebrity is that she has been embraced by the BJP, India’s fundamentalist Hindu party. This despite the fact that Kom, like many Manipuri’s, is a devout Christian who credits Jesus for all of her pugilistic success. A little big-tent pushback against the cow-protection machinations of the rival Congress party, perhaps?