Kangathei Kom (Manipur), Aug. 7: Boxing or cropping, nothing comes easy.
Mangte Tonpa Kom spent half a day out in the family’s half-hectare field planting paddy before he headed back home in the midday heat.
A day before daughter Mary slips through the ropes into the ring for her Olympic semi-final match, that was time well spent.
Unavoidable, too, to feed a family of six.
“Our lives have got a little better with Mary’s success but it’s still not good. Life’s still a very hard slog,” Kom Senior says, his lean shirtless body glistening in the light.
“Better” means the placement of the five-time world champion with Manipur police, ranked as a deputy superintendent.
“I just got back from the fields,” Kom Senior says, seated on a mora, the bamboo stool that is a familiar fixture in homes in the Northeast.
Years of battling the elements have perhaps made 53-year-old Kom Senior sturdier, at least so says the picture he presents of a calm and composed father who has learnt to beat the odds and keep going.
Times have been good since last evening, though. The folks of Kangathei Kom, a village 45km from Imphal and located in Churachandpur district, have poured in steadily, hugging Mary’s family, congratulating them, wishing them the best.
Mary began her boxing career from here but now stays with her husband in a village in Imphal West district.
Mary’s mother Mangte Akham and husband Onlar are in London to cheer her while the rest will watch from home, courtesy a Tata Sky dish perched on the roof of their mud-floored house.
Mary’s only brother M. Khupgreng receives calls on a cellphone while his wife serves guests water and tea.
Ask Kom Senior about Mary and his face lights up. “Never say die. That’s her motto. That’s my girl and she has got it from me,” he says, pride brimming over.
“Being my eldest, Mary has helped me with everything. She can cook, clean, swab, plough the field and chop firewood.”
Kom Senior himself was a celebrated mukna player when he was young, a man to be feared for his grapple in the traditional Manipur-style wrestling. He also learnt kung-fu, “all of which Mary witnessed”.
“Mary, you know, has been a tomboy. When she was a child, she wanted a pair of denims. That was a no-no, only girls in Imphal wore those then. But she insisted and wanted it in place of a pair of gold earrings I offered,” says Kom Senior.
“So we had a deal — that she wouldn’t wear them too often. So she wore her denims only during Christmas. She was only four then. That girl won’t take no for an answer.”
The Koms and the 130 other Koms in Kangathei Kom have been praying that their Mary wins against “the Nicola Adams lady” tomorrow in London.
What about Adams’s height, three inches more than Mary’s? Well, wasn’t there Tunisia’s Maroua Rahali, a whole four inches taller than Mary? Mary beat her all right.
On the way back, down the only bumpy road from Kangathei Kom, a reminder from the Kom household lingers: sister Shinglenei, four years younger, is definitely taller than Mary.
Mary’s headstart begins here, at her home.