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When 'contact sport' means something else


SPAR STAR: London bound light welter weight Manoj Kumar of Haryana with his mate, Thomas Mayengbam of Manipur

Gurcharan Singh was shy and reticent, Dingko somewhat temperamental. Akhil verged on brashness and then came Vijender, a darling boy who had every one swooning over him. Since then a new breed of boxers has cropped up that have broken all compartments. Apart from giving a young, fresh look to the Indian boxing contingent, Shiva Thapa, Devendro Singh and Vikas Krishan - each of them not a day over 20 - have brought about a significant change in the internal dynamics of Indian boxing - be it at month-long National camps at Patiala's National Institute of Sports or fortnight-long tournaments abroad.

The Haryana-North East compartmentalisation has been broken down significantly. Though Vikas Krishan is a year senior to Shiva and Devendro, the trio share a great bond since they became bumchums at the Army Sports Institute in Pune. 'Dudes' in their own right, they have shunned the traditional mould of sticking to their flock with a casual 'Hi' in hostel corridors. Vikas, the rustic lad from Haryana befriends shy North-Easterners with his livewire jokes and repartees. His skills in 'sweep' (a card game) are wellrespected in ASI and almost every ustaad has treated him with KFC chicken after losing a round. He remembers all ustaads on his fingertips who fled the scene after losing a branded pair of jeans as a bet.

Shiva, on the other hand, is a gaming freak. Devendro is different from both and sticks to his brand of music. Yet, when the banter starts the three always find something to discuss and gel well.

While Harayanvis are a skilled lot in the heavier weight categories, those from the North-East are power- packed dynamos in the lower classes. But Manoj Kumar has found an ideal sparring partner in Thomas Mayengbam in the 64-kg category. They train together and hang out together. When the time comes to click photographs, there is no one else Manoj will even think of posing next to, not even his own brother, Mukesh, another national camper.
"Pehla photo apne sparring partner ke shaath, " he says in Haryanvi-loaded Hindi.

It is only after Manoj gets his pose right with his sparring partner Thomas, that younger brother Mukesh, who stands in a far corner awaiting his turn, gets a look-in. No surprise that when the time comes for a Kazakhstan competition-cum-training tour, the teen brigade fret and fume as they dig inside each other's satchels in search of their passports. Devendro had entrusted 'senior' Suronjoy with his passport, which is lying in a safe place in the Capital, and so both have to rush to Delhi so that the former's visa is speeded up. As the wait for the London Olympics reaches the home stretch, the camaraderie between the qualifiers and their sparring mates only gets stronger, the line between those who could make the podium and those who won't gets blurred in the minds and hearts of those who sweat it out training in the ring. And to think, when they say boxing was a contact sport, it was taken so differently.

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