You Know Right Mary, There is SOMETHING About You – Open Letter to the Legend
I had, of course, heard of you, and read about your fourth world title that you’d won in China in the morning papers. But there wasn’t a lot in there. Those weren’t social media times, you see. And YouTube wasn’t too helpful either. So basically, the first time I’d interviewed you, I hadn’t watched a single bout of yours!
Congratulations! I’m so sorry I couldn’t be at IG Stadium last evening as I’m not in New Delhi at the moment. I really wish I was though, the atmosphere seemed incredible. But my heart burst with pride watching you on the telly. You really make the impossible possible, don’t you? So when they asked me to write something about you, my mind went into flashback mode. I’m not sure you remember the first time we met. Let me tell you that story.
It was 2008, and I was about a year or so into my job at the television network I would end up working for, for the next nine years of my life.
“You need to rush to Delhi University for an interview,” my editor told me over the phone that morning, while adding that I must confirm with you if indeed one of your twins was born with a hole in his heart, and if the child was doing okay now. I had, of course, heard of you, and read about your fourth world title that you’d won in China in the morning papers. But there wasn’t a lot in there. Those weren’t social media times, you see. And YouTube wasn’t too helpful either. So basically, the first time I’d interviewed you, I hadn’t watched a single bout of yours!
But the students from the North East, who had organised a little function for you at the University campus were very helpful, and certainly more knowledgeable than me. When you came to meet me, dressed in a top and jeans, hair tied in a pony, and with marigold garlands reaching up to your ears, my first thought about you was, “She’s so small!” But you had one hell of a personality, Mary, which I got a glimpse of that day, even though you struggled to articulate.
You were overjoyed when talking about how you won your fourth title, emotional while mentioning that it had been a struggle to return to shape after the birth of Reng Pa and Nai Nai, hurt that the authorities and the press didn’t think your triumph was a big deal, and angry that despite bagging a fourth world title, that year’s Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna honour went to “Dhoni Singh” (you were referring to MS Dhoni who had captained India to the T20 World Cup win in 2007) and not you.
But it didn’t stop you. Nothing stops you. Ever. In 2010 (and by then I’d watched some of your bouts), in Barbados, when you won your fifth consecutive world title, India was yet to wake up to you and the phenomenon that you are. It took your Olympic bronze in London in 2012 for that to change. “I think I made motherhood fashionable!” I remember you telling me, standing at the Excel Arena that day. The narrative of a mother of twins, beating every hardship and hurdle that was possible, on her way to an Olympic medal was finally being talked about, and appreciated and loved.
Amidst all the fanfare, the thing you were most excited about was that finally your academy back home could get the money and support it needed to grow. You chose to call it an academy all along, but all you had was an open field outside your home in Langol. Whenever you visited home, you taught the kids for free, and gave them your old gloves and punching bags.
In fact, that’s the time, in 2012, when I witnessed how different your personality is on and off the ring. You’re the most doting mom, and you don’t raise your voice even once when the boys are decorating your walls with their crayons. You’re zipping through the house wearing that lovely green phanek of yours, feeding them, packing their school bags, chewing paan all the time as you go about your chores. And then on the field and inside the ring, you just become this tigress. I’ve asked you so many times how you switch on and off with such ease. You keep saying Lord Jesus does it for you. So simple, huh?
Then came along Prince, your third son. You call him your “best boy” because he understands when Mamma needs to travel and train. He cries very little unlike his elder brothers, and co-operates. Just like he did in 2014 when you started training to compete at the Asian Games where you won gold. Do you know it was a weekday and crowds in Incheon had taken off from their offices and universities to come watch you? And then the mothers came and thrust their babies towards you to take a selfie because everyone loved Mother Mary so much! Back in India, they’d started making a movie on you. But you always felt no achievement was enough. It didn’t matter if someone was making your biopic, because if you stopped winning, you’d be forgotten.
No Mary, nobody’s forgetting you, nobody ever can. Because of the amount of joy you’ve given us countless times. WE owe you a lot more, in fact. I know not qualifying for Rio was hurtful for you, and you have your eyes on Tokyo now. It means upping your weight category and making all necessary changes that come along with it. But you’re a pro at this, Mary, so you’re bound to excel. So many years since your World Championship debut, and you’re still our best, the world’s best.
Keep fighting, it’s been a privilege to watch you and know you. Congratulations again.
PS: What are you listening to on loop these days? Last I knew it was Celine Dion’s ‘Believe’
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