There was a time when all that surrounded Mary Kom was the boxing ring and punching bags. All that was heard around her was the sound of the coach's instructions while she huffed, puffed and sweat — and the muffled thumps of her gloves beating her opponents. All that she was seen wearing were her boxing gloves and training attire, with hair tightly bound and ambition gleaming in her eyes.
Today, she is surrounded by camera flashes at various functions. You can hear the buzz of the media around her, hungry calls of "Mary, Mary!" for a sound bite. Today, you see her with a chic haircut and sponsored clothes — and her gleaming Olympic medal.
"I like the quiet, but I like the attention too. I'm very lucky," she says from amid those trademark shy giggles that break her speech now and then. "There are just so many functions to attend. If I refuse, people will take it negatively. I'm unfit you know, and I can't wait to get into a regular training regime. That's what I want. After January, no appointments."
The boxer in Mary Kom had spoken.
She still reiterates, "I'm not satisified — I want gold," but come Rio 2016, she will be older, slower and less fit.
"Not 29! I'm 30!" she correct us. "I know how hard it will be. Those 18-19 year-olds will be stronger. But my idea is to defeat them with my experience. I had very little time to increase my weight and move up a category this time. For 2016, I can plan better."
The nation may love her unconditionally and at 33, it will be unfair of us to expect gold from her. Doesn't it make more sense to go professional then? The pro ring is also an arena that we haven't seen any Indian excel in and it would certainly be a challenge for Mary.
"Only after winning a gold," she says, taking time to mull her answer. "It's very interesting. I want to taste it — see how difficult it is. But only after 4-5 years."
But surely she has attained everything one can as an Indian boxer? "You can say that. But one athlete's achievements are not enough. Everyone is happy with my bronze, but my expectation has not been fulfilled," she quips, like a stubborn block after a hard jab.
Moving on to a different tangent, the IABF's (Indian Amateur Boxing Federation) expulsion by the AIBA (International Boxing Association) has left Mary in a fix.
"My mind is confused. My plans for the future, what 2013 holds for me... I'm really confused. My suffering is fine. But what about the youngsters? They will suffer more. Indian women boxers can really come up, but all their dreams depend on these problems. It is shocking. I'm not worried for me, I'm worried for them."
She still hopes that problems will be sorted out by higher authorities so that the boxers can continue fighting under the Indian flag in future competitions. But having said that, it isn't hard to figure out a certain willingness of adventure in Mary.
But once she sets her sights on something, it's hard to make her budge. And for the moment, her eyes have the gleam of gold.