PACKING A PUNCH: Boxing champ Sarita Devi walks with students near Salt Lake City Centre on Saturday as part of Never Give Up, a march that drew over 1,600 students from the Indismart Group. The event was organised by the International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM), in association with The Telegraph, and aimed to garner support for Sarita, who is eyeing an Olympic medal at Rio later this year. “It is your support that has brought me back to the ring and now I am training hard for an Olympic medal,” said Sarita, who in 2014 had refused a bronze medal in the Asian Games over a dispute with the judges’ decision. She was then banned for a year.
SUMMER SIMMERS: The sweating had started even before the walking and the 7.30am flag-off was hardly a relief from the scorching sun. Teachers Sharmishtha Halder and Priyanka Sahni were seen guzzling down water in the middle of the march. “It’s become extremely hot, but we still wanted to show support in numbers.” Sreeparna Ghosh, a student, was seen speaking to her friend Anushka Seal holding a spare T-shirt above her head as a shield from the sun. “It’s too hot and we couldn’t even spot a shop to buy some water,” she said.
GO FOR GOLD: “While I’m delighted to be here I urge you to pray that I win gold for India at the Olympics and return to this podium with the medal,” said Sarita Devi to a huge round of applause.
After her return to the ring, Devi won gold at the South Asian Games earlier this month. “I am grateful for the support you have shown during the difficult time,” she said. She also thanked IIHM for supporting a boxing academy that she runs back in Manipur.
“Sarita Devi is a role model for today’s youth. She comes from a humble background. Denied a medal despite her talent, she was banned for a year but her motto is to never give up. Students need to learn this from her and not give up in any walk of life,” said Suborno Bose, chairman and chief mentor, IIHM. “IIHM is making a small contribution in the run-up to the Olympics with our faculty advising her on the right kind of diet. And we shall surely hold another such event once Sarita returns with the gold!” he said.
“I take grooming and confidence-building classes here once in a while and consider myself part of the IIHM family,” said Pinky Kenworthy, guest faculty at IIHM. Her husband, chef Shaun Kenworthy, is a mentor at IIHM. “This is a job-oriented college and students often have no time for fitness but I insist on it. Physical fitness is a part of mental fitness and I hope Sarita Devi’s presence inspires students to get fit,” she said.
“A boxer needs both strength and agility so I have accordingly asked Sarita to begin her day with milk, cereals and carbohydrates. In the evening I recommend proteins in the form of fish or chicken as well as vegetables. We’ve avoided supplements and gone all natural as that is what the body absorbs best. Since she has to train round the clock, her meals would be light and small in quantity,” chef Sanjay Kak, director, culinary arts, IIHM, said.
Amateur boxers Jahid Pervez and Md Muzammil Khan had come all the way from Kidderpore to Salt Lake to get a glimpse of Sarita. The duo managed to click selfies with her and were even presented a pair of boxing gloves autographed by Sarita.“She is an inspiration for all of us. I am sure she will make India proud by winning a medal in the Rio Olympics,” said Pervez.
Serene Sharma, a student at IIHM, was excited that she managed to get an autograph from Sarita. “Though she can punch the living daylights out of anyone, I found her to be very gentle and polite,” the Darjeeling girl said.
“I am very proud of Sarita Devi as she is from my home state Manipur. I’m also proud that she’s an Indian and that she’s a woman achiever,” said Taibanganbi Y, IIHM student.
Text: Brinda Sarkar and Snehal Sengupta
Pictures: Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya and Shubham Paul