Mirabai Chanu and Sanjita Chanu of Manipur lifted weights and the nation’s spirits with two golds on Thursday and Friday. Now it is time for Manipur’s other, probably more well-known, duo of Mary Kom and Sarita Devi to take centre stage.
One is an Olympic medallist, a Rajya Sabha member and has had a Bollywood hit made on her life. The other’s mention, though the winner of India’s only ever Commonwealth Games medal – a silver at 2014 Glasgow – draws a blank stare from many.
Mary might have gone down to her familiar 48 kg weight category and Sarita up to 60 kg, but the recognition they have enjoyed has had an inverse trajectory over the years.
“An Olympics medal must mean a lot,” Sarita had once said when probed about what she thought of Mary.
“Mary and Sarita have known each other for the last 19 years”
Their birthdays are the same. Earlier, they are known to have worked together at each other’s farms, spent 15 days inside the protection of a stadium at the height of Manipur’s militancy problem, then caught in an ugly fallout over who would be sent to the 2012 Olympics as India’s first woman boxer.
Mary’s bronze elevated her to being Magnificent Mary in 2012. In 2014 though, Sarita Devi’s CWG medal made less noise than the uproar that was caused when she refused the bronze medal at the Asian Games, protesting bias by referees. The image of her sobbing face was splattered across newspapers which had relegated news of her CWG medal to its digest columns mere weeks ago.
Now, both have married former footballers and post cheerful pictures of their children on social media. Over the coming week, 35-year-old Mary and 36-year-old Sarita will try to script what must be one of the last chapters of their careers.
The tale of redemption is also true for Mary Kom though, if her career is seen in isolation of her life. Before the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where Sarita medalled, Mary Kom lost a bout and a place in the India team to Pinki Jangra, making the Haryanvi a dreaded name in Manipur. She failed to qualify for Rio 2016 too, signaling what many thought was the end of her pathbreaking career.
India’s boxing federation has said confidently in recent weeks that this is the strongest Indian team ever and a record haul can be expected. When the finals are held next Saturday, can the comeback duo script what may be the last chapter of a script that is far better than the one written in Bollywood?