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Meeting a living legend

by Sagar Shah - 07/10/2015

A boring mandatory visit to the UK embassy turned out to be the most interesting day in the lives of I Sagar Shah and his wife Amruta. They were sitting in the waiting area, biding their time and there she was wearing a pink t-shirt, long skirt and a pair of slippers. One of the greatest sporting champions our country has ever seen - MC Mary Kom, five time boxing World Champion! Read more about this amazing meet and also how a new emerging sport could be something that you would like to try out. 

The fourth Buddhi International open chess rating tournament was held in Sri Lanka from the 19th-23rd of September 2013. I won the tournament convincingly with a score of 8.5/9. Quite a good result, but I was strongest player in the event by quite some margin and it wasn't surprising that I emerged victorious.


The trophy, which right now sits in my showcase, is the best looking one that I have won in my chess career. Along with the trophy, they also gave me the following certificate:


As a chess player we have all won many such certificates and after a certain point the quantity increases to such an extent that you start to lose interest in keeping them neatly together. 


But something happened just two days ago, 5th of October 2015, which has made this very certificate one of my prized possessions. What exactly transpired was some sort of a dream come true.

 Early in the morning, Amruta and I woke up lazy and irritated. The reason-  we had to go to the UK embassy in Mumbai to submit the documents and give our biometrics. The London Chess Classic is going to be held from the 4th to 13th of December 2015 and we had to apply for the UK visa. Our journey to the embassy consisted in discussing how irksome and problematic it is to apply for a visa every time you want to leave the country. Add to it the fact that you have to pay nearly Rs.9000/- for a UK visa (5000 for Schengen and much much more for USA visa) with chances that they might reject it, and you can understand our irritation at holding an Indian passport. But as they say, all things happen for a good reason! And if we didn't go to the embassy that day we wouldn't have been able to meet one of the greatest sporting legends the world has ever seen.


The UK embassy building from the outside


We sat in the waiting arena patiently biding our time. Suddenly I noticed a girl standing at one of the counters wearing a pink t-shirt, a long skirt and a pair of slippers. It didn't really seem as if she cared about dressing particularly well. She had well built muscles and her north-eastern look gave me a feeling of having seen her somewhere. At first I couldn't recollect, but suddenly it dawned on me... I had watched her innumerable times on television and also on the cover of a book that I possessed.


This cover of her autobiography in my mind came to my rescue as I tried to recognize the lady standing a few meters away


Come on! I pinched myself. This cannot be Magnificient Mary. A five-time boxing World Champion, Olympic Bronze medallist and a Gold Medal at the Asian Games. I told Amruta, "Look it's Mary Kom!" Startled a bit, she refused to believe me. Finally I convinced her to go and ask her if she was Mary Kom. When she went and asked, her coach replied, "Priyanka Chopra jaisi nahi dikhti hai na?" (She doesn't look like Priyanka Chopra, right?")


Priyanka Chopra acted as Mary Kom in the movie based on the latter's life



A story of how a girl from a small town in Manipur became a world champion in boxing. If you get hooked by the trailer, you can watch the full movie with English subtitles on Youtube for just Rs.50.


In September 2014, when Amruta went to National Women Challengers and was not doing so well, both of us went to an almost empty and wrecked theatre in Mapusa, Goa, and got inspired by the movie. Amruta finished strongly scoring 3.5 in her last four rounds.

When people realised that she was Mary Kom, they rushed towards her with papers and pens to get her autograph. I tried to find whatever piece of paper I had and the Sri Lankan certificate about which I wrote at the start of the article came in my hand. The quiet and discipline of the embassy had been broken. When I reached Mary, the guards had had enough and made me sit down in my chair. I slowly slid my certificate towards her and she gladly obliged.


These five words have made the Sri Lankan certificate my most valuable possession


The sports connection made talking to her quite easy. Mobile phones had to be switched off and we couldn't take a picture with her.

Mary Kom is going soon to London to train for the qualification to Rio 2016 Olympics. Winning a gold medal at the Rio is her final aim before retiring from boxing. But first she has to qualify for it from the AIBA World Women's Boxing Championships to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan from 24th of January to 1st February 2016. And even if she fails there she has another chance in Asian Olympic qualifying tournament in China in March 2016.


A mother to three children and still going strong! A true inspiration.


Mary said that the competition had increased quite a bit recently and also the number of weight categories had been reduced from five to three in the women's section. She can no longer participate in the 48kg weight category in which she feels the most comfortable. Amruta asked her about her training routine - she works intensely for one and half hour in the morning and the same amount of time in the evenings. After such strenuous work outs it is important to take rest and that is what she does in the remaining hours of the day.


Mary's interest in speaking to us increased after Amruta told her about her father, Sunil Mokal, (center) who was a national level boxing player and also a trainer in Tata Motors for 25 years. In the above picture you can see him practicing with Pune's best boxer Anthony, as two time Olympian Mr.Bose (left) looks on. After his retirement he currently teaches boxing and fitness to young kids without any fees.

What was a dull morning and lazy morning going to the UK embassy turned out to be one of the most exciting days of my life. For sports players like me and Amruta just seeing Mary made our day. Talking to her was a cherry on the cake! As chess players let us hope that after retiring from professional boxing, Mary thinks about pursuing the sport of Chess Boxing! While we could teach her survival tricks in chess, in boxing she would be truly invincible!


The ultimate brain+brawn sport = chessboxing


Chess boxing as a sport is gaining momentum in India. The basic idea in chessboxing is to combine the #1 thinking sport and the #1 fighting sport into a hybrid that demands the most of its competitors – both mentally and physically. In a chessboxing fight two opponents play alternating rounds of chess and boxing. The contest starts with a round of chess, followed by a boxing round, followed by another round of chess and so on.

A contest consists of 11 rounds, 6 rounds of chess, 5 rounds of boxing. A round of chess takes 4 minutes. Each competitor has 12 minutes on the chess timer.

A round of boxing takes 3 minutes. Between the rounds there is a 1 minute pause, during which competitors change their gear. The contest is decided by: checkmate (chess round), exceeding the time limit (chess round), retirement of an opponent (chess or boxing round), KO (boxing round), or referee decision (boxing round). For more information check out the website of chess boxing organization of India.


Boxers preparing with chess players is not such a rare phenomenon. In the above picture you can see the Vladimir Kramnik (left) at a training session with WBA heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. You can read about this unique camp in the ChessBase article.


On a parting note, I would like to mention that great sports players like Mary Kom should not have to waste time going to the UK embassy to get their visas done. She is a national pride and her time could be much better utilized in working on her game and fitness than getting her biometrics done. In any case, I am not the one who should be complaining, because if it were not for this rule, I would have never met the greatest Indian boxer!


Mary Kom's official website

Mary Kom's official Facebook page


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