Updated: May 23, 2022 7:42:47 am
WHEN NIKHAT Zareen was a young girl interested in boxing, she remembers people telling her father, Mohammad Jameel, “why have you put her in boxing? It’s a men’s sport (mardon ka khel hai), who will marry her?”. And she also recalls her father telling her, “Beta, you focus on boxing, and when you do well, the same people will come and ask for photographs with you”.
That became a reality in Istanbul on May 19, when she won the Women’s World Boxing Championships in the flyweight (52 kg) category. Nikhat (25) couldn’t sleep a wink that night as congratulatory messages and requests poured in.
In an online interaction at The Indian Express Idea Exchange on Friday, Nikhat, who became only the fifth Indian woman to win the championship, spoke about her struggles in a conservative society, how people ridiculed her choice to box as a girl, and how she had to fight, both inside and outside the ring, to achieve her dream.
“I belong to an orthodox society where people think that girls should only stay at home, work at home, get married, and take care of home. But my father was an athlete and knows the kind of life an athlete lives. He has always been there for me, supported me,” she said.
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So did her mother, Parveen Sultana, although she was once taken aback at how brutal the world of boxing was. After her first sparring session with a boy, Nikhat returned home with a bloody face and bruised eye.
“When she saw me, she began to shiver. She started crying and said, ‘I didn’t put you in boxing so that your face would get ruined’. She then said that no one would marry me. I told her not to worry and said, ‘naam hoga toh dulhe ki line lag jayegi’ (Once I make a name for myself, there will be a queue of grooms for me). Now she’s used to it. Whenever I get hit, she casually tells me to apply some ice and says that it’ll be okay. Sometimes, I feel like she’s become my coach now,” she said.
Nikhat started her boxing journey in earnest in 2009, won the youth world championship in 2011, fell in the quarters of the senior world championship in 2016, and has now won the gold. “My dream, my goal, is to win an Olympic gold medal for my country. I am working hard towards that goal,” she said.
She also identified her shoulder injury and its immediate aftermath as the moment that shaped her as a boxer and inspired her to pursue her dream.
“I guess before my shoulder injury, I was not mature enough. After the injury, I learnt a lot. I got to know who my real friends were, because most of them did not even message me or ask me how I was. But I remained positive and worked hard. I made my comeback in 2018 and took some time to recover before I won the gold at the Strandja Memorial in 2019,” she said.
A fan of actor Salman Khan, Nikhat said she enjoys watching Hindi movies. Responding to a question, she said that if a biopic is made on her, she would like Alia Bhatt to play the lead role. “I want Alia Bhatt to portray me. Kyunki usko bhi dimple aata hai and mere ko bhi dimple aata hai (Because she has got dimples and so do I). So I guess she can portray me,” she said.
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