Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Velvet gloves

Aqseer, ready to fight !
Aqseer’s run with boxing was a multilevel lesson for her and the family.

First off, it takes gall for Indian girls to take up boxing. There are the usual sexist, racist and cultural slurs when they enter the ring. It is a man’s sport. Who will marry them later?  It is dangerous. And more so in the west, please prove your sexuality?

On way to the ring
Aqseer did not fit the average profile of an Indian woman boxer. In the year she was born, there was a wave with boxing riding the crest of several professional women sports leagues. The Laila Ali and Jackie Frazier-Lyde fight of 2001 followed and then came the Academy Award winning Million Dollar Baby. This was the time bracket in which Aqseer entered the ring.

The evolution of Indian boxing was bringing a great roiling in the lives of ordinary Indian women. Were it not for boxing, many young friends of Aqseer’s would have been tending to the cows and buffaloes at home and sweating it out over the “chullah”.Instead  they were trooping in with her into the heavy, sweaty boxing hall at the Indira Gandhi stadium, where the only sound was the thud of glove against glove. It was to be their new temple of courage, ambition and independence.

They observed the quaint Indian practice of a quick dip to the floor with the right hand extended followed by a touch of the mother earth to the forehead as they entered. They called each other “Behen” and held Aqseer in some awe over her academic and English speaking skills. They also told her that she had a good “personality” in the ring.

The ring was sacrosanct. It was after all their chance to be somebody, their ticket to a middle-class life. They hoped that the Indian government would reward them with employment. There was also the notion that their new found independence would get them good homes and husbands. At the very least, they believed boxing would give them the confidence to go out into the mean streets without fear.

Fistic sisterhood
Their stories were inspirational. They came from families that began by discouraging them. They were coached in modest camps where they did their own chores and made do with an insufficient diet and a handicapped coaching. There was no trained therapist to handle their boxing related injuries. A pack of ice is all they and Aqseer could hope for on a rough day.

But come what may, women’s boxing in India was here to stay. The gender bar snapped completely the day International Olympic Committee declared that the 2012 London Games would include the event of women’s boxing. And ever since the International Boxing Association of India inaugurated the women’s world championship in 2001, Indian women pugilists have been right there, alongside the Chinese, Russians and the Americans, led most admirably by Mangte Chungneijang Merykom, better known as Mary Kom.

For Aqseer and the family, her engagement with boxing held up a mirror.

There were lessons there in the ring where anger and fear constantly punched at you. I knew that if she learnt to take a hit, keep her guard up even when dying to jump out, she would be ok. It was a workshop in courage, what Aristotle called the mean between fearlessness and excessive fearfulness. It was a lesson in pacing and leverage, in holding one’s reserve even when wanting to hit out. A lesson in hurting and getting hurt.

Strangely enough, the boxing gym had an air of peace, order and tranquillity. The boxers seemed lamb like outside the ring. Perhaps their inability to feel threatened made them less threatening. Aqseer found in her fistic family, a sense of discipline, a feeling of group attachment, mutual affection and respect.

Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club, asks, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

Well, Aqseer has been in some!

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