Sarita Devi, who inspired Mary to take up boxing, has always been overshadowed by her state mate’s accomplishments. But Glasgow provides her a chance to finally step out of it, write Jonathan Selvaraj .
Last Sunday, on her weekly rest day at the national boxing camp in New Delhi, Sarita Devi went shopping. It was the last break she would get before leaving for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, where women’s boxing will be making its debut. She spent the day trawling the the bustling streets of Chandni Chowk, looking for something that would catch her one-year-old son Tomthil’s attention. Something that would hopefully placate the toddler who is not getting to see his mother enough. Conversely, there is something that Sarita wants, too, for the sacrifice that she is making. But it can’t be bought off the counter in the Chandni Chowks of the world. She will have to earn it, in the boxing ring in Glasgow: a CWG medal.
While it would only be the latest prize in a career which has already seen Sarita win the World Championships twice (in the 52 and 57kg category), Asian Championships four times as well as multiple national titles, it would occupy a pride of place in her cabinet — as he first medal in a multi-disciplinary event.
While Olympic bronze medalist Mary Kom is certainly the face of Indian women’s boxing, Sarita can justly claim to have a role in her success, too. Back in 1999 when women’s boxing wasn’t even a recognized sport, Sarita, barely 14 then, took part in a show bout at the National Games in Imphal. Mary, then a trainee at the SAI centre in Imphal, later acknowledged that she made chose boxing after watching those show bouts.
Indeed, the two boxers’ careers in many ways mirror each other. They both trained together under the same coach — Ibomcha Singh. At 29, Sarita is just a couple of years younger than Mary. Both won multiple world titles. Both have made comebacks to boxing after motherhood. Both are employed by the Manipuri police and have homes close to each other in Imphal. Yet Sarita knows there is something crucial that sets them apart.
Which is why, while one could argue about the relative importance of the CWG, Sarita vouches for its significance. “Winning a world championships is very different from winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games or Olympic Games. The last time the Commonwealth Games were held in Delhi, I wanted really badly to take part in them. This time, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” she says.
A long wait
The fact that Sarita doesn’t have a medal, continued…