She is a woman of substance, self made, dedicated to her chosen field, and a winner of glory for her country. Daughter, wife, mother of three, Mary Kom has always yet been her own person, with a dream that grows bigger with every success.
Husband and manager, Ouler Kom talks about his celebrity wife in the new home they are now building in Imphal, Manipur.
Firstpost: How did you meet Mary Kom?
Ouler Kom: It was in early 2000s. I was in Delhi, on the instructions of my father who had asked me to sit for some of the UPSC exams, so I could get a chance at a good government job in the Civil Services. I was also studying at the same time, and was the President of student's unions...both the Manipur Student Union and the NESU.
Mary came to Delhi for the National Games, and as she was from my own community, I went as a student leader, with some office bearers to ask if she needed anything and how we could help. I gave her my phone number, and she promised to call if she needed our help.
Firstpost: And did she?
Ouler Kom : Yes. If she needed to go to the Ministry for a meeting, or go marketing, she would call. I would accompany her, or send one of my friends. We established a good rapport, a friendship.
Firstpost: When did marriage enter the picture?
Ouler Kom: I was not thinking of marriage then, that came later.
Firstpost: Tell us about it.
Ouler Kom: It was a relationship that developed slowly. At first I was only concerned about helping her. I saw her problems, and how she was struggling single handedly. Her parents lived in the village, they were no support at all, either financially or otherwise. And as a woman boxer, Mary had many hurdles to cross.
Firstpost: What kind of hurdles?
Ouler Kom: Like when she won the silver medal at the World Championship in 2001... It was celebrated in Delhi,but there was little effect in Manipur. When she had to go to Turkey the next year, she had very little money for the trip. She had gone to the US with Rs 2000! Everyone knew how poor her family was. So the student union and some Manipuris in governement service decided to help. We intitiated fund raising projects to fund her on her trips for her competitions.
Only when she won the Gold Medal at the World Championships, was Mary Kom a known name in her own home state.
Firstpost: So, when did you decide you wished to marry her?
Ouler Kom: Actually, it was not an instant decision. She is not beautiful, and so there is not that instant attraction. Neither am I good looking...so I was not sure she would even accept me, when I took the decision to ask her. Besides, I was almost engaged to another girl at that time. I had to decide between them.
Firstpost: And what helped that decision?
Ouler Kom: I thought about which of them needed me more. The other girl was from a middle class family, her father was doing well. Mary on the other hand was still struggling, with no support at all. I felt empathy with her, felt her suffering as she travelled alone for her competitions. Sometimes, in the long bus journeys from Imphal to Guwahati and from there by train to Delhi, she would lose her luggage, or be teased by the boys and men at bus stops or travelling with her.
Also there were all the negative comments about a girl boxer; at that time it was not a popular sport at all, and people looked at her as if she was some strange creature. I felt protective, and I think my feelings evolved from there.
Firstpost: So you decided to ask her to marry you?
Ouler Kom: There were many problems. I had left my job in Shillong to try for exams and a job in Delhi... It had not happened. I could not marry till I had a job. By 2004, when I had decided to marry her, she was already holder of a silver medal and a World Champion title. She had plenty of medals more to win, wanted to keep boxing.
Firstpost: When did she make up her mind to marry you?
Ouler Kom: When she was in Delhi, she would visit me. We had known each other for four years now and she knew she could depend on me for any help. At that time, there were many boys pestering her with proposals and offers of marriage. She had become a star. It was a source of annoyance to her, a disturbance.
I told her, "You better get married to me, and leave all these proposals behind. Once you are engaged to me, no one can bother you, you will be in my care." I asked her to think it over, and give me a response in three to four months.
Firstpost: What about her parents? Did you also seek their consent?
Ouler Kom: Actually, I already had approached them, before talking to her.
Firstpost: What was their reaction?
Ouler Kom: ( laughing ) Her father nearly killed me. He said, ' this is no way to come with a proposal, we have our traditions and customs...our own culture. I don't understand what you mean by love...'
I tried telling her mother that Mary needed to be cared for, that I could do that, protect her, help her financially and otherwise. She had no access to finance to improve her boxing. I had played National football when in Meghalaya, I knew how to deal with the sports people.
Nothing worked. So I decided to speak to Mary directly.
Firstpost: And Mary replied in some time?
Ouler Kom: Yes, she agreed. Told me to talk to her parents. I said, I already have. And they have refused me.
But once she agreed, I left the Student's Union and decided to help her.
Firstpost: But you finally got married. Were the parents convinced?
Ouler Kom: I approached them again, but was rejected. Mary then said, let us elope. We will go to Delhi, Shillong or somewhere, let us stay separately from our families, on our own; we can have a court marriage.
Firstpost: So was it a dramatic elopement?
Ouler Kom: No no! I told her not to be emotional. She is the eldest daughter, I am the youngest son, and everything we do affects our families.
In fact , her mother too came to visit me, and said,' Please don't take away my daughter, I will convince my husband'.
Firstpost: And she did?
Ouler Kom: Yes. Actually, my parents had also once visited her parents. We have a ceremony where the boy's parents carry food and tea. If the girl's parents drink the tea it means the proposal is accepted. If they don't then it is a refusal.
They did not even let my parents pour out the tea.
But now her parents invited mine and drank the tea. And the wedding was fixed. This was in 2005.
Firstpost: Tell us a little of Mary Kom as a person.
Ouler Kom: I think I know her best. I see her as the perfect woman. Whatever she does she does perfectly, and with full concentration. Boxing, watching tv, sleeping... Everything has a grace about it. When she watches serials she gets so engrossed she will cry...
Nobody thought she will clean the toilet, or wash clothes after winning the Olympic medal; but she is still the same. She does what she did before, with the same energy and dedication, at home and in boxing. She looks after the children the same way.
Firstpost: No shortcomings at all, then?
Ouler Kom: Sometimes she is very short tempered with the children, hits them. I tell her children will be naughty, they need to be taught, not hit. Do that only if they do something bad.
Also sometimes she is shy and distracted, and says things out of line to the media when they interview her. And they blow it out of context. It is worrying. She gets tense easily, then it is difficult to cool her down. I literally switch on the air-conditioner for her to cool her down!
Also, not being very educated, she had problems with English and communicating with the press. But now, after so many interviews, she is better than me also, in English. Plus she is studying for her BA!
Firstpost: One last question. Has her medal changed anything in Manipur?
Ouler Kom: There is a terrific interest in boxing. I have many students in our Academy, and they learn the hard way... Running up hills for stamina, fighting and boxing in the jungles.. it will make the boxing ring seem like a playground when they finally enter it for a bout.
Mary Kom is a star in not just Manipur...but in the entire country...the world. I am so proud of her!