Updated: August 29, 2020 10:46:43 am
If things were normal, she would have been at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in Delhi accepting the coveted Arjuna Award from the President of India. But on Saturday, 22-year-old pugilist from Assam, Lovlina Borgohain will be in a PPE suit, on the road from Patiala to Chandigarh, where she will attend the first-ever remote National Sports Awards ceremony via Zoom. In July, too, things had not gone according to plan: instead of competing at the world’s biggest sporting event in Tokyo, she was back home in her village in Assam, sowing paddy in muddy waters. But Borgohain — said to be the first woman to have qualified for the Olympics from Assam — is far from disappointed. The journey from the remote Bara Mukhia village in Assam’s Golaghat district started eight years ago, and the 5’11 tall Borgohain has learnt to take things in her stride – whether it’s an opponent in the boxing ring or some age-old patriarchy. Edited excerpts from an interview:
This year, things have not gone as per plan…
They haven’t. In normal circumstances, I would have been able to go to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, take a photo with the President of India. But yesterday, I went to the rehearsal in Chandigarh, dressed in a PPE. But it’s okay — it is what it is. Even when the Olympics got postponed, I felt disappointed initially but later, I realised that I could use this year to improve my game. I had qualified for the Olympics in the 69-kg category by winning a bronze medal. So clearly, there is a lot of room for improvement.
You are the only person from Assam to have won the Arjuna Award this year. How does that make you feel?
When I heard about the award, I was in Patiala. Of course, I was happy but my family members back home were even happier. Everyone from the village landed up at my home — dhul and pepa (musical instruments) in tow and it turned out like a festive Bihu occasion, which made me miss home even more. This year, the lockdown gave me a chance to be home for three-four months at a stretch after eight long years. Since moving to Guwahati in 2012, I have lived in Bhopal, Visakhapatnam, Delhi, Patiala and even trained in a camp in Italy, but not home. My two sisters — who I am very close to — were also home, my nephew had just been born and I found myself sowing paddy in the fields, just like old times. Of course, I continued to practise every evening in a small room in my house.
What got you to start boxing?
When I was in Class 5, my father showed me a newspaper clipping of Muhammad Ali. That was probably my introduction to boxing. But it was Muay Thai that I first trained in. In Class 9, one of my neighbours introduced me to Muay Thai and for a year and a half, I would cycle 2 km everyday for my lessons. In 2012, I met a coach from Guwahati called Padum Boro, who impressed with my skills, asked if I would like to go to Guwahati to train.
So you had to switch sports?
Sort of. Muay Thai is different from boxing because it has kicking and punching both. My boxing instructors told me: “Etiya bhori namariba, okol haat solua” — stop kicking, start punching. While I caught on to that easily, my national camp training in Bhopal was the real challenge. I was raw in my skills and this was the first time that I had stepped out of my home. Up until then, I would sleep on the same bed with my mother. In those days I had to participate in my first competitive bouts, and I would inevitably lose all — which would make me cry, and roam around with a swollen nose and eyes. On days I got a good thrashing , I wouldn’t speak to anyone. But even then the thought of giving up never occurred to me. With the help of coach Shiv Singh Sir (who was awarded the Dronacharya this year), I slowly got the hang of it and things got better. I went on to compete in many international tournaments, including the Commonweath Games and AIBA World Boxing Championships, and finally inched closer to my dream, when I qualified for the Olympics in March 2020.
That’s a long journey…
Yes, it is. Growing up, my family has faced hard times. My father used to do small jobs which earlier got him 1,500-2,000 a month. I remember how in the village they would often pity my parents, with no sons but three daughters. But my parents would have none of that. For example, it was not kosher for girls in our village to wear jeans (they would wear skirts or mekhela chadors or saris) but on the contrary, my father encouraged us to. Actually, we could do whatever we liked to: dress as we please, or ride bikes, or even keep our hair short. My mother would always tell us to do something to prove the critics wrong. And we did. Both my sisters — Licha and Lima — have jobs in the Central Industrial Security Force and Border Security Force, and I am a boxer.
What makes a good boxer?
In boxing, or any other sport for that matter, you don’t need just a strong body but a strong mind too. The key is to remain focussed. In my earlier bouts, about two-three years ago, I would get very nervous. Soon I learnt that was not the way — in boxing one punch could change everything. Now I have learnt to keep a cool head and tell myself that all I need to do is give my hundred per cent — nothing else matters. My main focus is the Olympics, which has been my aim ever since I joined the sport. In 2015, I got a tattoo of the five olympic rings on my wrist. The tattoo is a reminder to remain motivated.
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