The referee raised the hand of the Uzbek boxer in Ekaterinburg, Russia, and a hush fell over the packed courtyard at the Panghal household. For 15 minutes preceding the 5-0 verdict against India’s Amit Panghal in the World Championship final of the men’s flyweight category, the cobbled 150 yards in front of the two-storey house in Maina, Haryana, resembled a make-shift cinema auditorium.
There had been anticipation about Panghal becoming the first Indian male boxer to win a gold at the World Championships. The silver he won on Saturday was historic nonetheless. Vijender Singh (2009), Vikas Krishan (2011), Shiva Thapa (2015), Gaurav Bidhuri (2017) and Manish Kaushik, in the 63-kg category in this edition, had all returned with bronze medals.
The audience of 60-odd comprised the village priest, pradhan, the shopkeepers who had closed early for the day and Panghal’s relatives and friends. Early birds got the 25 chairs spread out, the ones after took the five charpoys. Last-minute entrants just stood eyeing any openings.
Setting up the home theatre wasn’t for the technologically challenged. Connecting three extensions, pushing out a refrigerator to act as a stand and placing a television was the easy part. The TV needed to be ‘smart’ and the operator smarter. Amit’s elder brother Ajay was in charge of switching on the mobile hotspot and finding a stable stream.
“Everybody is asking which channel the final is on,” said a flustered Ajay. “How do I explain it to them that it’s on YouTube, when their mobile phones don’t even have Internet?”
The residents of the village, the first one off the Rohtak-Jhajjar road, had spent most of the evening wishing away the menacing dark clouds. Some well-wishers came from neighbouring villages with boxes of laddoos.
To set the mood, Ajay first played a music video starring his younger brother on loop, before switching to his 2018 Asiad gold-winning bout.
Panghal lost Saturday’s final to the reigning Olympic champion, Shakhobidin Zoirov, a taller boxer with greater reach. Those closest to the television, however, would shrug off whenever Zoirov connected, and clapped at each semi-successful punch from the Indian.
The ripple effect would lead to more applause. It was hardly an atmosphere conducive to objectivity.
“Ib boxing samajh na aave manne (I don’t get boxing now),” mumbled a tau walking off. The elderly relative had earlier tried his best to keep count of the punches and spent the first round trying to figure out where the points were displayed on the screen.
“It’s 10 minutes and then whoever wins,” he continued before turning around and addressing the deflated crowd: “Shok kyu mana rahe ho? Silver toh laaya hai na. (Why is everyone downcast? He has won silver).”
Earlier, Ajay broke up the hookah baithak doubling as the welcoming party, and asked them to gather around a table. He then emptied a bag on the table, displaying all its riches: his brother’s career medal haul.
Mother Usha Rani stood quietly identifying the medals to her friends. “That one from the Commonwealth Games is very important.”
Usha later admitted nothing gives her more joy and pride than revelling in her son’s success. “Everybody loved him. But they would always tell me. He’s so naughty. Keep him in control. They’d complain a lot,” she said. “He was born premature, and was a sickly child. He was weak, but was extremely naughty. Looting kites, playing marbles… He would silently crouch behind people and scare them with cat noises.”
Harmless childhood pranks, till Usha retells a story. “Once his aunt, who lives across the street, was cooking something on a chulha. Amit scared her and she almost fell on the fire.”
Usha would always shield her son from the enraged; she also tried shielding him from boxing.
“He took up boxing and assured me that he would keep studying. But his tuition classes and boxing were both at 4 pm. So I told him he can’t box anymore,” said Usha. “Then his fellow trainees came by and asked me to let him box, that he would be a big boxer one day. To be honest, I was also worried because he was a weak child. And I was worried he would get hurt.”
She still winces whenever Panghal gets punched.
The crowd disperses soon after the bout. Some stick around, consoling and cheering the household. Usha takes forced bites of a laddoo while Ajay sees the visitors off. Eyes already bloodshot, he quivers and looks for silver linings.
“The opponent was good too. You can’t take anything away from him. But I also remember that even at Commonwealth Games Amit won a silver,” he says, recalling a performance which was followed by gold at Asian Games and Championships. “Ab iss silver ki khunnas Tokyo me niklegi (The frustration of winning only a silver will push him at the Tokyo Olympics).”