"We are a generation of men raised by women; I wonder if another woman is what we need"
- Tyler Durden
"... A good boxer is an artist ..."
- Norman Mailer
You wouldn't think of India as a country with cases of violence against women in every morning paper if you simply took a passing glance at the adulation being showered upon one 5 ft 2 inch mother of two hailing from a part of the country whose denizens are discriminated against in a generic, everyday manner, and succeeding in a field in which the participation of women is met with more raised eyebrows than toasts. Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom is 29, a 5 time World Boxing Champion and a Bronze medallist at the 2012 London Olympics, where Women's Boxing debuted as an 'Olympic sport' while Dressage made its 24th appearance; the logic -I believe- being that a competition between consenting horses is a more legitimate and cultured form of sport than that between consenting women.
Ours is a time when every single accomplishment is measured against every little factor that could have prevented it. So then there, in picayune multicolour, "Mother of Twins", "Not enough government support" and "Bad diet" as excuse-headlines triumph the usual considerations; training, devotion, strength, the assiduous refining of natural skills, the intensity of competence, the aim to win. The point is to project an achiever as an aberration, not as a beacon of hope, but as a demigod, because countless hours spent at the gym, with countless more in the ring and the will to take up a challenge and perform at the highest level with a determination that crowds the throat with joy and ensures that a win is not just recorded but peopled does not make for good Media any more. You need a back-story for back-stories, a faux pas that is projected as a harbinger of epiphanies. Not 'Brilliant Female Boxer.' No, we want 'Mother. Boxer.'
India's Mary Kom lost in the semi-finals of the flyweight (51 Kg) category to the UK's Nicola Adams, a fighter physically larger than Kom. Good boxers are substances close to rock, and unfortunately, as with rocks, the lethality of a boxer's punch increases non-linearly with her size. It was both heartening and disheartening to watch Mary Kom try and shield herself from Adams, all the while trying to jump and land well intentioned but flawed punches on her opponent, attraction and repulsion all part of the same package. But Adams was better and she won, which isn't to say that Mary Kom didn't put up a fight worthy enough for a semi-final, but to convey the truth in as non-dismissive a manner as possible. The potentiality of language fails miserably while describing the true emotions of two people fighting each other in the ring, since the presence of letters, pen, paper and desk takes the primality out of boxing, and what remains is the story: Mother. As Norman Mailer, reporting 'The Fight: Ali vs. Frazier' wrote, "...prize-fighters have ... gone through experiences in the ring which are occasionally immense, incommunicable except to fighters who have been as good or to women who have gone through every minute of an anguish filled birth..."
Note the clarity of that sentence. '...to fighters...or to women...' When Mailer wrote the piece for the 19th March, 1971 issue of Life Magazine, the assumption that women aren't meant to be in the ring was universal enough for the greatest living commentator on boxing to have made it, while at the same time acknowledging that every single woman who has been through the process of childbirth has essentially taken the same amount of pain that a pro-boxer endures in an especially gruelling match. In a (still) masculine society, that should have a non sequitur, if only boxing had not transformed from a sport which pits one person's ability to physically and psychologically deconstruct (and leave astray) another person to one where two gigantic Egos conduct proxy wars via tabloids. In that (and this) scenario, women's boxing, with its blessed status as an 'underdog', is as pure as you can get to what the sport of boxing is actually meant to be and the boxer, once more is the embodiment of quiet strength, having, in Mailer's poignant words, 'the loneliness of the ages in his (her) silence'.
The Olympics are now over and most sportspeople (think not football, tennis; think javelin throw, decathlon) will once again be condemned to a life of relative obscurity till the party resumes in Rio, their relationship with fame more summer romance than enduring marriage. And the praise and awards for people like Mary Kom will die down in a world where most (men, women) would associate the scenario of a married woman with kids fighting another woman in a ring with a Salvador Dali painting. And maybe the sport will provide pithy encouragement for women (and men) to attach the importance to physical strength that they don't. However, as with any great form of art, any undying example of human perseverance or any genuinely revolutionary socio-cultural idea, the greatest learning is that once it is done the first time, people are baffled as to why it wasn't done before.