In a room in Manipurs largest stadium,Khuman Lampak,Dronacharya awardee and boxing coach L Ibomcha Singh recalls the early days of his proteges Devendro Singh and Mary Kom,both from these parts.
Sheer persistence is what set both Mary and Devendro apart from the others even as children says Singh. I used to tell Mary to slow down and not over do it in practice so she doesnt tire or burn out. But she used to practice when I wasnt looking. Devendro was just 10 and he used to cycle 15 kms to the stadium from his village on the outskirts of Imphal,everyday. He was small and I told him he neednt come everyday,just twice or thrice a week. But he would turn up every single day, laughs Singh.
Singh believes the success of the pair has inspired several children,especially girls,to take up the sport. Sports is hugely popular,even with the girls. Would you believe that we have more girls coming to the stadium to play football than boys?says Singh. In Manipur if the youth dont have anything to do,they get involved in drugs or insurgency. Sports and the government job it promises is a viable alternative,says Singh. Mary now runs a small boxing academy in the outskirts. There are 20 children who train there of whom she feeds,clothes and schools seven.
Devendro grew up seeing older sister Sushila become a state level boxer. Boxing has seen them both land jobs with the Manipur Police,and Devendro is now an ASI. His fatherLaishram Jogendro,says it is not just his family that is following his sons exploits. Whether or not his son wins,the family,Jogendro says,will throw a feast on his return for the whole village.