Unbreakable: An Autobiography
The setting is a well-lit room of a plush central London hotel. Barely a couple of hours have passed since MC Mary Kom stood on the podium with a London Olympics bronze medal draped around her neck. With husband Onler and mother Anu by her side,Indias most successful woman boxer is bouncing around,smiling and hooting with laughter.
At one moment,she is singing,Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko,looking at Onler. The very next moment,tears roll down her face as she blankly stares at the bronze medal. The years of hard work and sacrifice come rushing to her memory. She apologises for missing out on the gold,for letting the nation down. Onler consoles her. The smile returns.
Mary is a woman of refreshing candour. And her aptly-named autobiography,ghost-written by Dina Serto,does full justice in bringing that out. It is an engaging read,filled with anecdotes and incidents heart-wrenching and rib-tickling in equal measure that traces her roller-coaster journey from being born in abject poverty to becoming one of Indias most successful sportspersons.
Growing up in Manipur,Mary kept boxing a secret from her family until she won the state championships in 2000. Her father urged her to give it up,members of her clan disapproved. Mary held on. For her,sport was a means to a stable government job that would help drag her family out of poverty.
But early in her career,Mary knew she would have to beat the system to make a mark at the national level. The Indian system is designed such that issues like rivalry between coaches,associations and athletes can stunt their growth. She notes: One of the measures taken to maximise the impact of training camps is to divide us into groups,each… placed under different coaches. While this is an efficiency measure,in effect it encourages groupism and favouritism…. Quite often,when training starts,the atmosphere is about as tense as it is at some disputed international border.
While her will-power carried her through the minefield of politics,she found emotional support in long-time friend Onler. In a particularly endearing chapter,she says she was willing to elope with him after her Apa refused her permission for marriage,fearing it would kill her career. Onler managed to convince him.
After marriage,her father-in-law became a source of inspiration. From here,the story drifts to insurgency in Manipur,and how a rebel killed her father-in-law. It left a permanent scar on her.
Around the same time,motherhood kept her away from the sport for a considerable period and a comeback was thought to be impossible. Even my parents felt that my performance was bound to suffer. All of this hurt …me enormously. I wanted to prove them wrong, Mary writes.
And she did. The story picks up pace as she narrates her journey to the Olympic medal last year. Standing on the podium for the medal ceremony,my heart was burning,almost bursting with pain. How I yearned for the gold… I tried to smile for the world…,but couldnt help feeling that I had let me country down.
Where it disappoints,though,is in the lack of descriptions. The focus throughout is more on describing the socio-economic issues that have added to her legend. It would have been interesting to know more of her her training schedules (she mentions them briefly) and how she dealt with the pressure of expectations going into the London Games.
But perhaps,the final chapter of this five time World Champions story is yet to unfold.