|Flanked by their parents, talented Jamshedpur boxers Archana Rout and (above) Preeti Kumari stare at an uncertain future. Pictures by Bhola Prasad
Mohammed Ali, arguably the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, had chicken, eggs, beans, fruits and orange juice.
Nothing fancy, but good for strength inside the ring.
Budding pugilists Archana Rout (12) and Preeti Kumari (14) of Birsanagar near Jamshedpur may or may not have heard about Ali. But they certainly haven’t heard about his diet. Their own comprises chapatti, gur, rice gruel and mashed potatoes.
A new-age diet? Not really, it is as old as poverty itself.
Both Archana, daughter of a paralysed contract worker, and Preeti, with a cobbler for a father, know that poverty punches a hard one. Both are products of Birsa Boxing Centre, Birsanagar.
Though they want to grow up to be India’s celebrated pugilist Mary C. Kom, they worry if hunger will kill this fire.
Archana has given sterling performances in the sub-junior category, winning gold at state ties in 2010 and 2011, both in Jamshedpur, the yellow medal again at the 2011 sub-junior national tourney in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, and a bronze at the sub-junior national in Calcutta in May 2012.
Yet, she has makes do with two meals a day. Father Basanta can’t work after a stroke paralysed his right hand. Mother Sumitra is a school kitchen attendant, earning Rs 500 a month. Elder brother Vikas, a driver in a transport firm, earns Rs 2,000 a month.
“How can I ask for a special diet? I have left everything to destiny,” said the preteen sounding older than her years in front of her rickety Birsanagar zone No. 3 home.
The only time she feels well fed is during school lunch. As an eighth grader at the state-run Rajkiya Madhya Vidyalaya, Birsanagar, she gets hot midday meals.
Preeti (14), who won a gold in Coimbatore and a bronze in Calcutta, is a tenth grader at the same school. Her father Kameshwar, a cobbler, has a small shop in Bhalubasa and earns Rs 4,000 a month. Kameshwar and wife Malti also want their talented daughter to have the best possible diet for boxing strength, but can’t manage anything more than the occasional treat — mashed potatoes.
“I may give boxing a miss after my matriculation next year. I need to earn to support my younger brother’s education,” Preeti said.
If the girls have a silver lining, it is their coach Ernest Lakra.
“Our coach gives us milk and chana after practice session almost everyday. Training apart, he also bolsters our confidence,” Preeti said.
Lakra, who had coached the Indian junior team in its Cuban exposure tour in 2008 as well as celebrated pugilists Aruna Mishra, Anthras Lakra and Mishal Lakra, however is a disappointed man.
“They can win medals. I have written to the state sports and youth affairs department thrice, pleading for their financial scholarship or cash prize. Nothing happened,” he fumed over lack of state aid for talented and needy boxers.
Is the state blind about helping sportspersons?