“When I came out of jail, suicide looked like an option. I had lost my job and my friends but it was the loss of reputation that hurt the most. Drug ka dhabba lagne ke baad sab zero ho gaya, main farsh pe aa gaya tha.” Ram Singh pauses for a moment before carrying on about the drugs haul case that ended his – and nearly Vijender Singh’s – boxing career. “I lost my job as head constable. I sold my car to pay for the court case. And everybody stopped trusting me. Earlier, friends used to go out at night saying they are with me. After this case, everybody was told to stay away from me. Duniya matlab ki, zamaana paise ka.”
Sparring partner and friend to Vijender, Ram was expelled from the national camp and hauled up in the heroin case while the Olympic bronze medallist remained an active boxer. By his own account, Ram was kept in custody for 37 days and jailed for 23 more. For most of the two months, his family didn’t know where he was. He came out 10kg lighter and battling depression, unsure of how to start anew.
Four years on and Ram is back in the ring. The 34-year-old led the Mumbai franchise in the ongoing Super Boxing League (SBL). But it’s outside the ring where he is piecing his life together. In late 2014, Ram started a boxing academy at Public College in Patiala’s Samana village. After initial apprehensions, a few kids from the village started training under him. Today, the academy has produced professional boxers, state and national champions and houses hopefuls from other states and even overseas.
“Earlier this year, Leo Singh, a professional boxer from Birmingham, came to train with us. He heard my name because we are doing something good, right?”
Another of his proud proteges is Kuldeep Singh. Ram says he has guided the labourer-turned-national champion-turned professional boxer since 2002. As luck would have it, the two faced off in SBL, with Kuldeep winning the contest. Years haven’t been kind to Ram, who admits lack of training along with a thyroid problem have left him slower in the ring even if “SBL me sabse badiya body meri thi.” With plans to branch into MMA, Ram says he has to fit in personal training between academy hours. The defeat in SBL doesn’t bother Ram though, for Kuldeep learned the tricks of pro boxing from him.
While it began with a few donated shoes, the academy now has a physiotherapist, two sponsors, and 16 punching bags; but no chair – “agar coach baithega toh bachche kya train karenge.”
A big chunk of the Rs14, 000 he gets paid by the college goes towards legal expenses. Some of it is used to help out the kids. “I take them to the meets myself. At other times, it’s the jalebis and juice. When they are here, they are my kids. I have seen this early struggle. Boxing ameer, AC me baithne waale toh karte nahi hain. Gareebi se aate hain log.”
According to Ram, some government coaches tried to scare away parents, claiming he would turn the kids into drug addicts. “Results speak for themselves. And now that I am getting results, people remember I have represented India. They remember I stayed in Vijender’s room for eight years. How I supported him while he was slowly climbing up the ranks.”
Ram recounts the day he walked 75km to join Vijender for a practice session and the langar he organised for 300 people when his friend won the bronze medal in Beijing.
“Duniya matlab ki, zamana paise ka,” he repeats, before quickly trying to mask the bitterness. “Dhabba us pe bhi to lag hi gaya tha. The man who has won laurels for his country was also dragged unnecessarily in the case.”
Contact between the two has been limited to Ram ‘liking’ the occasional picture on Facebook. But he will be watching Saturday’s fight night – though less for Vijender and more for fellow pro Neeraj Goyat.
“Everybody hears the name Vijender and think that he is the one who brought professional boxing to India. But Neeraj Goyat had turned pro much before and has had more experience on the circuit. Neeraj bhai has also helped me out a lot, and has always treated me with a lot of respect,” says Ram. “I still pray that Vijender wins and makes India proud. But aap sab log Vijender ko hi uthaate hain bas,” he sniggers.