Despite a viral fever and subsequent chronic back pain wrecking preparations, Lalitha Prasad Polipalli successfully defended his 52kg national title last Thursday. “This entire week, I competed with my back taped. I can’t bend down, can’t stand for too long,” says the boxer from Vizag, adding that he would readily go through these painful days again than reliving the dreadful fortnight before last year’s tournament.
Prasad’s gold at the nationals in Baddi came almost a year to the day his 11-year-old brother attempted to take his life.
“The Nationals were 15 days away. I had practiced so hard but then I got the news that my brother had tried to hang himself. I am so fortunate that I have such coaches and friends who put Rs 15,000 in my hand, booked my flights,” says the services boxer. “Mera jaan hai mera chhota bhai (My brother is my life). After he got better, I flew back to compete at nationals and won gold.”
Services coach Narendra Rana tears up recalling his ward’s feat at the tournament last year.
“He came back to us, but he left his heart at home. He would have this blank look on his face, and we were worried because you don’t want to send an unprepared boxer in the ring,” says Rana. “He said he wanted to box because otherwise his mind wouldn’t stay still. For the team, it’s one gold medal among several. But we all know the significance of his performance.”
“Rana sir came to me and told me, ‘You’re a sentimental boxer. You use this sadness in the ring’,” remembers Prasad.
“By god’s grace my brother was saved. I don’t know what I would’ve done otherwise. He saw it in some movie, and decided to try it. I was very shocked because he is very close to me. I felt disappointed that he thought he couldn’t share his problems with me. Eventually we realised that he was missing our father.”
Prasad’s father, a taxi driver who supported his three sons and wife, passed away after prolonged illness in 2012. His brother was young, but was the closest to his father.
“We aren’t well off. But having papa around meant less pressure on anyone. Most days we would have a bowl of ganji rice (porridge). If it was a good day for him, we would cook chicken. Mutton we couldn’t afford,” said Prasad, “But we were a close, happy family. Me and my elder brother weren’t good at studies, but papa wanted our little brother to go to a private school.”
After his father passed away, Prasad’s elder brother took up driving. But depression and financial difficulties forced them to transfer the youngster to a government school. “He also had to take a break for a while, and because of that his life got disturbed. Last year was especially tough for us. So he decided to take that step,” said Prasad. “He is doing better now. I called him after my final bout and he was very happy.”
The 23-year-old Prasad, a national champion at sub-junior, junior and thrice at seniors, is a pedigreed boxer. But the former youth world and Asian bronze medallist lost his way due to injuries, aforementioned struggles and the fleeting sense of fulfillment (and complacence) after he got the job as a havaldar. Over the last few years, Prasad has seen contemporaries leave him behind, most notably, men’s boxing top dog Amit Panghal.
“I have wins over Amit. Once at the nationals in 2015. In the youth nationals the year before. But his rise is only because of the amount of hard work he has put in since. He has gone so far ahead now that I can’t even begin to think of catching up to him now,” laughs Prasad.
“We have always been together since the sub-junior days. Me, Amit, Manish Kaushik. There are days when you look at what they are achieving and feel left out,” Prasad adds. “But Amit’s attitude, discipline is something else only. He’s a complete sportsman. He’s my competitor, but more than that, he is like a friend, like a brother to me.”
This year has been about climbing back, and the Makran Cup silver-medallist believes he’s one breakthrough away from being a top prospect again. More importantly, all’s good on the personal front too.
“My brother recently told me, ‘I also want to become a boxer’. I feel so scared when I think of think of him getting punched,” says Prasad.
“I told him ‘sure, once you pass 10th.’ I would like for him to continue his studies and have a good future. But boxing isn’t bad. More important is that he is feeling better now, and has a goal.”