MARY’S LIT­TLE LAMBS

SEE THE SEN­SI­TIVE SIDE OF OLYMPIC BOXER MARY KOM AS SHE PLAYS MOM TO HER THREE STARS: RENGPA, PRINCE AND NAINAI

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - Text by Veenu Singh Pho­tos shot ex­clu­sively for HTBrunch by Prab­hat Shetty Styling by Avneet Chadha

“Ev­ery time Mom comes back with a medal, we are happy. And when our friends talk about it, we are re­ally proud!” —Nainai Kom (11)

TO CEL­E­BRATE THE ON­SET OF COOLER CLIMES, WE OR­GAN­ISE A PIC­NIC FOR OLYMPIAN MARY KOM AND HER BOYS. IN TURN, WE DIS­COVER A SEN­SI­TIVE SIDE TO THE BOXING CHAMP THAT WE’VE NEVER SEEN BE­FORE! [ AN HT BRUNCH EX­CLU­SIVE! ]

Like ev­ery par­ent trav­el­ling on busi­ness, Mary Kom makes it a point to re­turn with gifts ga­lore – toys, books, even eat­a­bles. Like all chil­dren, Mary’s three boys – 11-year-old twins Karong Rechung­var Kom and Karong Khup­neivar Kom (nick­named Rengpa and Nainai re­spec­tively), and five-year-old Karong Prince Chungth­anglen Kom – love the gifts. But what they love more is the fact that their mother is home.

“When­ever the kids learn that I’m go­ing to leave for a tour­na­ment, the first thing they ask is when I will be back. That’s very touch­ing for me,” says Mary who, un­like other busi­ness trav­ellers, of­ten re­turns home not only with gifts for the chil­dren, but with medals from her sport – boxing.

The cham­pion boxer, holder of the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Ar­juna Award and Ra­jiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, has re­turned from the 13th Sile­sian Open Box- ing Tour­na­ment for women in Poland with a gold medal (her third this year) in the 48kg cat­e­gory. She’s now gear­ing up for the 2018 edi­tion of the Women’s World Boxing Cham­pi­onships that will soon be held in Delhi. So, to cel­e­brate both her medal and her home­com­ing, HT Brunch or­gan­ised a pic­nic on the lawns of the Taj Ma­hal Ho­tel in Delhi, that has her chil­dren squeal­ing with ex­cite­ment.

“Pic­nic! We have never gone on a pic­nic,” screams an ex­hil­a­rated Prince, leap­ing about the lawns as Rengpa and Nainai mock sword-fight with the fallen leaves of a tree.

With a big grin on her face, 35-year-old Mary watches her chil­dren horse around. “Most women have just one or two chil­dren, I am very lucky that I have three and even luck­ier that de­spite hav­ing three chil­dren, I’m still able to fol­low my pas­sion for boxing,” she says. “But this would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the sup­port of my hus­band and our fam­i­lies.” NO­VEM­BER 11, 2018

MOTH­ERS AND MEDALS

Mary mar­ried foot­ball player K On­ler Kom in 2005. It took much strength of mind to over­come the pa­tri­ar­chal mind­set that a woman should not work – and es­pe­cially not make sports a ca­reer – af­ter mar­riage. The fact that her sport is boxing made it worse. Be­cause boxing as we all know, de­spite the fact that women’s cham­pi­onships ex­ist all over the world, is not a woman’s sport any­way.

The pa­tri­ar­chal cam­paign be­came worse when Rengpa and Nainai made their ap­pear­ance in 2007. How can a mother not take care of her chil­dren full-time? How can she train and travel the world, and bring back cham­pi­onship medals while her chil­dren grow up with­out her?

Mary’s ‘job’ may be dif­fer­ent from what we con­sider jobs, but she’s like any other work­ing mother: torn be­tween the need to fol­low her pas­sion and the well-be­ing of her chil­dren.

So. it’s for­tu­nate that her de- ter­mi­na­tion to con­tinue her boxing ca­reer is matched by her hus­band’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to back her, be­cause 44-year-old On­ler gave up foot­ball and be­came a stay-at-home dad, leav­ing Mary free to bring home the medals.

“On­ler pushed me ev­ery time I was ready to give up,” says Mary.

She con­sid­ered drop­ping her ca­reer twice. The first time was when her fa­ther-in-law passed away. Just a week ear­lier, he’d watched her win a world cham­pi­onship and was de­lighted. “He’d changed his at­ti­tude to­wards me af­ter watch­ing me win, and was full of ad­mi­ra­tion for my talent,” says Mary. “His sud­den demise had us in shock and I did not want to con­tinue with boxing. But my hus­band in­sisted I shouldn’t worry about what peo­ple say, but just con­cen­trate on the game.”

On­ler was just as sup­port­ive when Mary was preg­nant with the twins and wor­ried about bal­anc­ing her ca­reer with moth­er­hood. “He has made a lot of sac­ri­fices for me. And my niece and my cousin have also been very help­ful, giv­ing my chil­dren a mother’s love,” says Mary.

For On­ler, back­ing Mary comes nat­u­rally. “It’s al­ways said that be­hind ev­ery suc­cess­ful man there is a woman who sac­ri­fices her own dreams and goals. But why should only the woman make the sac­ri­fice?” he asks. “Mary has strug­gled hard to achieve all that she has, and I don’t want her to throw it all away just to fol­low the norms.”

On­ler’s sup­port and Mary’s de­ter­mi­na­tion show the na­tion how life could be for In­dian women if In­dian men were less en­ti­tled to prime po­si­tions. At the very least, how­ever, Mary’s suc­cess has been an in­spi­ra­tion to other In­dian sportswomen, who are now braver about fol­low­ing their pas­sions.

That makes her im­mensely proud, though like all work­ing moth­ers, she also has mo­ments of re­gret. “If you have seen the biopic made on my life ( Mary Kom, star­ring Priyanka Chopra), you’d re­mem­ber the in­ci­dent in­volv­ing my son’s heart prob­lem. That was not fic­tional,” she says. “This was in 2011 when I had to leave for the Asian Cup cham­pi­onship in China. Khup­neivar (Nainai) had a con­gen­i­tal heart dis­ease and needed surgery. I had been se­lected for the cham­pi­onship, but I was shat­tered and couldn’t even train prop­erly. On­ler con­vinced me to go. I left with a heavy heart. Smart­phones weren’t eas­ily avail­able then, and it was hard to stay in touch with my hus­band and

“I WANTED A DAUGH­TER. A GIRL WOULD HAVE UN­DER­STOOD MY STRUG­GLES IN A MORE SEN­SI­TIVE WAY…” —MARY KOM

“WHEN THEY [THE KIDS] FIGHT, I TELL THEM THAT EVEN BOX­ERS ONLY FIGHT DUR­ING A COM­PE­TI­TION; THE REST OF THE TIME, THEY’RE FRIENDS!” —MARY KOM

I played that game with a heavy heart. By God’s grace not only did I win a gold for the coun­try, but my son’s surgery was a suc­cess.”

BRING ON THE BOYS

The twins are aware that their mother is a cham­pion boxer and a celebrity. Though foot­ball is their game, they are proud of their mother’s achieve­ments. “Ev­ery time mom comes back with a medal, we are happy, and when our friends talk about it, we feel proud,” pipes up Nainai.

Mary was speech­less when she first learned about hav­ing twins. If, how­ever, she were the type to see sym­bols, she’d have known she’d have two ba­bies, thanks to a cer­tain pump­kin plant.

“When I con­ceived, I sowed a pump­kin plant in our kitchen gar­den,” she laughs. “Only two pump­kins grew on it, and they were joined to­gether. Maybe it was a di­vine sign!”

But since the ‘di­vine sign’ went right over her head, and she had no ul­tra­sounds in the early stages of her preg­nancy, Mary was un­con­scious of the ex­is­tence of a sec­ond baby. “I should’ve known,” she ad­mits. “I have a small frame and my stom­ach had grown so big that I’d joke I was hav­ing twins. Then the joke came true!”

Af­ter the twins were born, Mary was keen to try for a girl, but Baby No. 3, who ar­rived six years later, turned out to be a boy too. “I’m very blessed, but like most women, I wanted a daugh­ter,” smiles Mary as she hands out sand­wiches to the chil­dren. “A girl would have un­der­stood my strug­gles in a more sen­si­tive way. Also, as you grow old, a daugh­ter not only takes bet­ter care of you, she is also more per­cep­tive of your needs. Till to­day my mother shares her prob­lems more with me than any­one else.”

Busy with her train­ing, Mary does not spend as much time with the chil­dren as On­ler, but as she chases them away from the pool on the ho­tel grounds, she ac­knowl­edges that three boys can some­times be quite dif­fi­cult to man­age. Though she fo­cuses on them when she can, cook­ing them their favourite meals, and play­ing with them, it turns out that of the two par­ents, she is the dis­ci­plinar­ian.

“The kids are more scared of her scold­ings than mine,” laughs On­ler.

“But I scold them only when they do things that might turn dan­ger­ous,” in­ter­jects Mary. “For in­stance, play­ing with scis­sors. I may lose my cool at times, but I mostly ex­plain why they should not do what they’re do­ing. And when they fight with each other, I tell them that even box­ers fight only dur­ing a com­pe­ti­tion; the rest of the time they are friends. It’s es­sen­tial to tell chil­dren what’s wrong and right.”

While this may be the Koms’ first pic­nic, they spend as much time as pos­si­ble to­gether as a fam­ily. In Delhi, there are days at the mall, and din­ner at restau­rants of the chil­dren’s choice. “My kids love Ja­panese food and we of­ten go to Ko­fuku at An­sal Plaza. Or we or­der their favourites at home. We once went to the Delhi zoo, which they loved, and when I’m away, On­ler takes them for movies, and they hang out with my nieces,” says Mary. “And they love the fes­ti­vals that are cel­e­brated in Delhi, par­tic­u­larly Di­wali when all the mar­kets are dec­o­rated. Now when­ever Prince sees lights, he thinks it’s Di­wali!

#MarysLit­tleLambs

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