The tiny village of Haluwas — where the Tanwars lived — is some 10 kilometres from Bhiwani, and it was during their daily commute between the two in the evenings that Sunder Singh Tanwar would discuss boxing with his teenage son.
Sunder had originally packed off his young — but alarmingly obese — son to a boxing academy in Bhiwani to learn the sport in a bid to bring his weight under control. But it was only in a few months that young Naman had started to take the sport seriously. So seriously, in fact, that even when he was finished with training, the sport was all he could talk about.
A few years on from those journeys between Haluwas and Bhiwani, Naman has become the talk of the town, having claimed a bronze medal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Naman — the youngest member of the Indian boxing squad in Australia at the moment — saw his run at Gold Coast come to an end on Friday against Australia’s Jason Whateley with a 4-0 defeat.
But what stood out was his swagger in the ring. His ducking and weaving in the face of a barrage of punches heading towards his face. His thundering upper-cuts that left even a seasoned boxer like Whateley reeling momentarily. And his open stance, which has drawn instant comparisons with 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Akhil Kumar.
“Akhil ki baatein bahut karta hai woh (He talks incessantly about Akhil). He has been really inspired by him. He’d watch only his fights earlier. Thanks to that, he picked up his style,” Sunder tells Firstpost, a day before his son’s semi-final defeat to Whateley.
The stance angered many of his earlier coaches, yet young Naman had his mind made.
“When he started out, all coaches at the district and state level would tell him to stop boxing that way. They’d say ‘Kya drama laga rakha hai? (Why do you do this drama instead of boxing?)’ They’d say a lot of things to him. But he was sure of his style. Ye starting se hi aisa tha! (He was like this from the start) He’d say that one day, people would say they want to box like Naman,” Sunder says.
In fact, Naman has trouble understanding why people box with their guards up.
“He once asked me why other boxers were protecting their face. ‘Don’t they have confidence in their boxing style?’” Sundar says. “Naman ka maan na hai ki boxer main confidence hone chahiye, tabhi toh mazaa aayega! Dekhne walon ko agar mazaa nahi aayega toh kya fayda? (A boxer needs to have confidence, then only there’ll be some fun in boxing. And if the fans are not enjoying, what’s the point?) Ring main jao, haaro ya jeeto, koi dikkat nahi. Lekin jo ticket leke aate hain, unka entertainment hona chahiye. Unko mazaa aana chahiye. (In the ring it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, but those who have bought tickets should get entertained) ”
Sundar also says that while Naman never wanted to be a boxer to begin with, he forcibly sent him to a boxing academy to lose some weight.
“When he was 14 or 15, he used to be really obese. His weight was around 65-70kgs. His height was also short. The only reason for sending him to boxing training was to make him fitter. I’d noticed that boxing has the most gruelling training regimes. Boxers do the hardest work. At the start, each day I would take him to the boxing camp in Bhiwani some 10 kilometres away. For the first few months, I would have to sit there to see if he was actually boxing.
“Slowly but surely, he started losing weight. But more importantly, he started getting serious about the sport,” Sundar recollects.
So serious, in fact, that he would stay back and shadow practice late into the night, even when everyone else had left for the day. And would turn up an hour before everyone even on cold mornings.
“A few times he started to get really late coming home. One day I went to the boxing academy to check up on him and noticed that he was practising alone. He said to me, “Everyone practices as much as the coach wants them to do, but the training I do after even the coach has stopped and gone home, that is what will take me ahead of everyone.
“In winters, the coach would call these kids at 5.30 am to train. Naman would turn up at 4.30 am. He’d then run his lungs out before starting shadow boxing,” says Sundar.
Once Naman started showing interest, Sunder started playing the part of a sport obsessed parent too.
“I’d noticed that when the coach would ask these kids to run 10-12 kilometres on Saturdays to improve stamina, these kids would decide amongst themselves to run slowly, almost jogging. So I would make him run a few kilometres before we got to the academy.
“Eventually we even rented a house closer to the academy so that we could save on those two hours we ordinarily spent travelling.”
But there was still one problem. With boxing in the country undergoing upheaval since 2012, when the erstwhile Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) got suspended, Naman found his route to the national team blocked.
“There was one point when I was wondering if I had made a mistake giving my support for Naman to become a boxer. Main soch raha tha kahin uske future ke saath khilwaad na kar diya maine (I was wondering if I had played with his future). Naman had competed at the state-level quite a few times. But he never made it to the nationals. His name would never come in the youth India squads or junior India teams. Neither did he get an international exposure tour. He was downcast at this. He’d wonder why when he was doing so well, he would never make it to the Indian team,” Sundar says.
But with Boxing Federation of India coming to the helm of the sport in 2016, a sliver of light peeped in through the door.
“I really want to thank BFI for where Naman has reached right now. Once they took charge, he got his first opportunity to compete at the Youth World Boxing Championships. And look where he is now!”
Before he left for the Commonwealth Games, Sunder asked him what medal he believed he would come back with. With typical cheek, Naman replied, “Medal ek hi hota hai. Main sirf gold ko hi medal maanta hoon, baaki toh kuch nahi. (There’s only one medal. I only consider the gold as a medal.)”
Each time Sunder asked him what he would do in the ring tomorrow, Naman would offer a simple, yet bold, “Chinta mat karo, usko ghooma doonga. (Don’t worry, I’ll handle him.)”
He’ll return from Gold Coast with a bronze, a colour he may not recognise as a medal. But the level of entertainment he provided in the ring? Pure gold!
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Updated Date: Apr 13, 2018 19:33:13 IST