Early on Sunday morning, Jasmer Singh got to know that his daughter Rajni, the 16-year-old national junior boxing champion, would get a mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly Mann ki Baat. It was Rajni’s coach, Surinder Malik, who first got the confirmation from a Doordarshan official.
Malik was told about Modi’s interest in the inspiring story — reported by The Indian Express — of his ward from Buana Lakhu village near Panipat, whose training was funded by her father who lugs heavy metal cans on his old Rajdoot motorcycle, knocking on doors to sell lassi.
But Jasmer missed the broadcast. “Rajni had told me that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would mention her. I had to do extra rounds to sell lassi, since I knew we would have a crowded house by evening. The village elders would drop by, so I had to serve them food,” he says.
It went as planned. Jasmer, who on an average sells 60 to 70 litres of lassi daily, sold over a hundred. “On Sunday, I sold 102 litres of lassi and returned home with barfi and laddoos,” he says.
Earlier this month, The Indian Express had reported Rajni’s gold medal triumph in the 46-kg category of the Junior Nationals at Chandigarh, through the eyes of a father who, over the years, had diligently set aside a substantial portion of his profits for the family’s boxer.
Modi spoke about Rajni for over two minutes, recounting how Jasmer supported her dream despite financial hardship. “On winning the gold medal, Rajni ran to a milk stall and drank a glass of milk to honour her father Jasmer Singh, who sells lassi. She said her father had sacrificed a lot to help her reach this stage… When she expressed her desire to learn boxing, her father was determined to provide all possible resources, and encouraged her in her pursuit,” he said, as he congratulated Rajni and her parents.
Rajni’s tryst with the sport began over four years ago when she saw some girls training at the Phul Singh Memorial Boxing Academy run by Malik. The youngster, the third eldest among six siblings, would initially train with old gloves at the academy. Things improved after she won a gold medal at the School Nationals in Dehradun last year.
This was followed by a bronze medal at the first Khelo India Games, which provided an entry to a national camp, which took care of her diet and training. In August this year, Rajni won the gold medal at the Nations Junior Cup in Serbia, beating Russian Anastasia Kiriyenko in the final.
Malik says Rajni is an inspiration for the village girls. “At our academy, we train in a ring made of bamboo sticks. More than 50 girls train here daily. Today, after the Mann ki Baat, six girls from the village turned up at my academy,” he says.
It’s late on Monday but Rajni still can’t get over Sunday’s Mann ki Baat. “I still can’t believe that the Prime Minister spoke about me. For the last five years, boxing has been my life… Sometimes, I would train on an almost empty stomach as my father had to support the whole family and we would skip meals for each other. Last year, during the Khelo India Games, I missed the opening ceremony. My bout was on the same day, so I had to train. This year, I wish to win the gold medal at the Khelo India Games and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” she says.
Rajni’s thoughts also go out to her father. “Mere papa 12 saal se purani Rajdoot pe lassi bechte hain. He has not missed even a single day. You can’t imagine how difficult it is. Early in the morning, when he loads his motorcycle with these metal cans filled with lassi, I sometime pull the bike back so that it can be put on the stand. I know how heavy it is. I have no idea how he balances the motorcycle all day. When he returns after a hard day’s work, we help him to offload the cans. I really feel for him,” she says.
Rajni says things have improved for her, especially after Khelo India. “I am getting Rs 10,000 per month since August and have saved it in my account. I will save more money to buy a new motorcycle or electric vehicle for my father,” she says.