It’s a disappointment that has been erased for 56-year-old Tonpa Kom, Mary Kom’s father. “During the London Olympics I had expected Mary to get a gold medal, but she got bronze. With her winning the gold at the Asian Games I feel vindicated,” he says. “I only feel sad today that Mary’s friend Sarita was cheated of her gold,” he adds.
A poor landless peasant, Tonpa has spent most of his life trying to eke out an existence and put his four children, three of whom are daughters, through school. A small wiry man, with a face lined with furrows like the fields he would till and darkened by the strong Manipuri sun, Tonpa now sits comfortably amongst his grandchildren, whom he and his wife are babysitting while Mary and her husband are in Incheon, in a four-storey mansion which Mary has had built in the last two years. Her new home is bright — bubble gum purple and sea green with splashes of mauve on the walls. The large compound houses three cars including a Scorpio and a Verna. Mary has also recently gifted her parents another house in Imphal city. It’s all far cry from the mud-and-thatch hut they used to live in in neighbouring Moirang town.
Mary has taken others in. Her nephews, a cousin and several aspiring boxers, including two girls live with the family. Her institute — the Mary Kom Women’s Fight Club — is being built a stones throw away. Despite having been the five time world champion, financial success has been recent for Mary, flowing in only after the London Olympics, a number of ad campaigns and the movie made in her name. Just over two years ago, Mary like everyone else in the Games village where she lives right under a ripple of blue green hills, used to live in a small single-storey cottage-like government quarter. Even back then she had taken in a number of boxers who would otherwise not have the opportunity to train in Manipur’s capital. During the economic blockade of 2011, when gas cylinders were hard to come by, Mary would go and collect firewood herself to get the kitchen running.
The one and only
Tonpa says Mary was the only one of his children who enjoyed sports. “Ibomcha Singh, who later became her coach, saw her at an athletics competition in Moirang and told me that she had a future in sports. But I could not afford to send her to Imphal at that time. Several years later the Father at the St. Xaviers school where she studied also told me her future was in sports. I then scrimped and saved and finally sent her to Imphal,’’he says.
While he supported her athletics he was against her boxing, afraid of her face being injured in the ring. Mary hid her boxing from her father initially and it was only when she started competing nationally that Tonpa came around. Now a room in the mansion is kept separate for Mary’s accomplishments. Shelves are stacked with trophies, medals, golden gloves, recognitions from the state and her own Kom community with etching of “our dearest daughter”. The walls are lined with photographs of her with celebrities, presidents and ministers. Paintings of Mary’s bouts gifted to her by fans and clubs and posters of Priyanka Chopra playing Mary crowd the little space left.
“There was one time when I really couldn’t make ends meet and told her I’m sorry but I can’t support your diet. She told me, don’t worry: when others eat meals worth Rs 50, I will eat meals worth Rs 25. At that point I decided that I have to support her no matter what,’’says Tonpa today.
“But never had I imagined that she will do this well for herself and for us. I am comfortable now, and so is my family,’’says Tonpa as Mary’s twins, the seven-years old Reichungvar and Khupheivar run past him wearing their mothers gloves.