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What Made Boxer Vijender Singh Go Pro?

This potted biography takes a close look at the champion boxer's latest turn in career and training regime

12/07/2016 8:53 AM IST | Updated 19/07/2016 8:47 AM IST
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Ringside With Vijender by Rudraneil Sengupta

Olympic medallist Vijender Singh made India reckon with the phenomenon of amateur boxing on a global stage. In Ringside with Vijender, journalist Rudraneil Sengupta tells the story of the champion boxer's journey into the world of professional boxing, following a regime of rigorous training. Edited excerpts:

***

He steps out of the gym, zips his parka and looks around. A beautiful day. Bright, with wispy clouds. The road empty of cars, people. He straightens up to his full height, takes a deep breath. A cool breeze fluttering through the leaves. A day to walk...

A new beginning! Why? What possessed him to do this? To go back to the basics after fifteen hard years spent following one path? To uproot himself from home, family, country? To live out of a hotel room for months with no one to really talk to, no one to meet? To fight with everyone to have his way – and now, he knows, they will say he has turned his back on his country, run away. Oh well. You can't do their thinking for them, can you? And then, as a reward, burn your lungs running up steep steps, trying to keep up with someone ten years younger but already a star in the making; get pounded by a 6 foot 7 upstart who's barely just started off in the sport, but can talk and taunt and get your blood boiling. Ribs hurting and blue, an eye cut and swollen, shoulders sore – what's not to love?

He walks on, lets the train of thought go down the line. Why is he doing this?

Back home, there is a saying: Na teen main na tera main, 'neither in three, nor in thirteen'. Ah, now there's a sharp lesson. Once, a rich man fell in love with a beautiful courtesan. She told him there's no one she loves more than him. The rich man was deeply smitten – he bought a necklace of pearls and sent his most trusted lieutenant to deliver the gift.

'Tell her that it's from the man she loves the most,' he told his lieutenant. The man took the necklace and did as he was instructed. The woman was puzzled. Who could it be? She took three names, but none of them were of the rich man. The lieutenant shook his head. She expanded the list to thirteen. The rich man's name was not in it. The lieutenant left without giving her the necklace and went straight back to his boss: 'Sir, you are wasting your time. You are neither in three, nor in thirteen.'

He believes in one thing more than anything else: You have to keep moving. To do that, you have to take the first step. And then another. And then one more. One step at a time, always, always. Keep moving. This much he knows – he's taken the first step. He's moving. That can't be wrong.

Is he chasing something that's not even there?

He had dreamt of fighting in Madison Square Garden: fighting under blinding lights, cheered by thousands, his face on billboards in New York City.

Is it possible to start afresh as an athlete when you are twenty-nine years old?

He believes in one thing more than anything else: You have to keep moving. To do that, you have to take the first step. And then another. And then one more. One step at a time, always, always. Keep moving. This much he knows – he's taken the first step. He's moving. That can't be wrong.

He's been walking for two hours now, and he's hungry. He is finally in a part of town that he knows well. There's the Chinese supermarket, its green-and-red pagoda rising above the flat strip mall. He had gone in there once, hoping for a gourmet adventure. But no one spoke a word of English. Reluctantly, he had to come out of there without a meal.

It starts raining. His hotel is just around the corner, but he doesn't care to go in yet. He puts his hood over his head, and picks up the pace. He starts humming again. He goes past an old-looking pub with a sign tacked on the door that says: 'sorry folks, we have a strict no football colours policy.' A hunger built up over a long, long walk, the chill brought on by the rain – this calls for some Indian food: hot, spicy, the sharp smell of spices, thick roti to dip into a steaming curry.

This one? No. He's eaten here before, it was shit. Walk on. There must be another, something with more promise, on this network of narrow streets crammed with restaurants and pubs.

In five more minutes he's in front of a tiny corner shop with a bright green sign, a Pakistani restaurant. Through the large windows, he can see there are just four to five tables inside, but business is brisk. It looks perfectly cosy.

He enters and is greeted in Punjabi. It's a relief to hear the language.

'Theek ho?' he says.

'Kaake, mainu kahi dekhia hain tanne...' says the old man behind the counter.

He runs a hand through his hair to shake off the water.

'Yes, you may have seen me before.'

'Arrey, you are the boxer, right? From India?'

'Yes,' he smiles. 'Vijender Singh.'

'Olympic medal? You are him? What brings you here? I saw you on TV, I know you.'

'I want some good rotis, kake, some really good food. Proper taste.'

The food was amazing. It reminded him of home.

Excerpted with permission of Juggernaut Books from Ringside With Vijender by Rudraneil Sengupta. Exclusively available on the Juggernaut app

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