In a dingy lane of Howrah’s Andul neighbourhood, a 14-year-old girl sat staring at a black-and-white TV screen on Wednesday evening and dared to dream.
“One day, I hope to win an Olympic medal like my hero Mary Kom has done. She has shown we can fight,” Chaitali Kapat told Metro later, in between throwing a flurry of punches at a 10kg sandbag.
Class VIII girl Chaitali is not just another overenthusiastic teen spurred by a feat that has taken Mary years of hard work and many sacrifices to achieve. She is in many ways what Mary used to be as a tyro — a small-built girl with a mean punch and fire in her eyes.
According to coach Sanjib Banerjee, Bengal’s only gold medal-winner in the sub-junior women’s national boxing championship last June “is a natural”.
“She would climb a tree and watch us train. Sometimes, she would challenge one of my boys to a bout. I liked her aggression, so I asked her to join me,” Banerjee recalled.
Chaitali went on to win the sub-junior national crown in the 36-38kg category against a boxer from Tamil Nadu who was taller and stronger than her. “She showed great courage that day,” her coach said.
Like Mary, who grew up in a poverty-stricken household in Manipur, Chaitali has had a hard life. Her father died young and her mother is the sole earner, toiling in a sari workshop for a daily wage of Rs 50.
The local panchayat built a room for Chaitali last year. The TV in that room is her only luxury and a window to the world of boxing.
Coach Banerjee regards Chaitali’s “raw aggression” as her best asset, borne out by her own explanation for taking up boxing. “Aami maar-peet korte bhalo bashi (I love to fight),” the 14-year-old said. “In school, all the boys are afraid of me.”
But competitive boxing is more than just aggression. The ring demands the highest level of fitness and a diet that Chaitali can’t afford. The trickle of donations is gratefully accepted but isn’t enough.
What she doesn’t lack is inspiration. Chaitali, who hadn’t worn a pair of boxing gloves until December 2010, is convinced that if Mary could, she can too.
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