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HomeGlobal NewsMary Kom: The lioness in winter | Paris Olympics 2024 News -...

Mary Kom: The lioness in winter | Paris Olympics 2024 News – Times of India

Siddharth Saxena

This is the Olympic season, but Mary Kom, India’s brightest star not so long ago, is happier away from the limelight than in it. It is a space, she says, of her own making
FARIDABAD: Mary Kom is not answering the door. The distant sounding echo of a cartoon show on TV is the only sign of activity inside her house. We gingerly open the door and step inside.Sleeping on the L-shaped sofa are two kids, sleeping as only kids can – mouths open, limbs sprawled. They are Prince and Merlyn Kom, just back from school and lost to the world.
Mary Kom wouldn’t answer the door, because she’s enjoying a late afternoon siesta, or as we learn later, just taking one because it is now an enforced routine.
Olympics?!” She groggily waves off the obvious icebreaker, a very mesh reaction to an obsession that had otherwise kept Mary Kom’s fire burning for years, an obsession that bordered on the unhealthy, accused of being highly individualistic, a selfishness that rubbed many the wrong way. All that never seemed to faze her, in fact often famously spurring her further. But now?
The Paris Games are only weeks away, but India’s most obstinate star doesn’t appear too bothered. Mary Kom, frighteningly fierce, fabulously funny is not at home. The person sitting before us, asking us tea, is an impostor – distant, distracted not just dazed from late, afternoon sleep. “There are issues, you know…,” she says somberly.
The other day, over a week ago, Mary Kom was present at the Indian contingent’s Olympics kit and apparel launch. Standing alongside Karnam Malleswari, the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal, and other erstwhile medal winners, she was in a familiar setting but didn’t linger on.
A couple of weeks before that, she had accompanied tennis and badminton stars, Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal, on an episode of The Great Indian Kapil Show on Netflix, where she mock-admonished the popular comedian – whose routine is often peppered with sexist jibes – not to anger her or else she’ll knock him out. But she also laughed lots and seemed to be having fun. “Brother, that is Mary Kom for you. There is a public face, there is a private face. You will never come to know what I’m thinking, what I’m going through.”


Mary Kom at an event in the run-up to the Paris Olympics. (ANI Photo)
“I like to get ready and go out,” she grins. A newspaper snippet earlier this week mentioned how she surprised a crowd at a south Delhi bar by showing up and belting out a couple of old rock classics. Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Let Me Be There,’ was one of the tracks she sang, but Paris is a no-no.
Earlier this week, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) announced that Beijing Games bronze winning shooter Gagan Narang would be India’s chef-demission to Paris, after the original appointment had withdrawn. It would have been a historic first for India – a sportsperson and a woman being the leader of the Indian contingent, but Mary Kom was letting this one pass.
“If I had the years with me, Paris was definitely on my mind. That and that one colour (of the medal). I really wanted to go for these Olympics, but ‘family first’. I really cannot leave my children,” she says.
“Team India is in my heart, but home comes first,” she says, laughing at her effort at wordplay, but hastens to add, “There are issues … at home. I would not have been able to do justice to it with my mind occupied elsewhere. The chef-de-mission is a huge responsibility.”
“I briefed PT Usha ma’am, she understood immediately. I told her, maybe next Olympics, or next time, whatever, I’ll probably be ready…,” she laughs raucously, but it’s soon replaced by inward grimace.
In this Olympic season, Mary Kom is predictably much in demand, but she is choosing her appearances carefully. “I have to manage home; the kids are growing up and this is a strange time. My mind is constantly at home.”
Is this the lot of all superstars in the evening of their existence, more women than men? The former Rajya Sabha MP is learning to play a whole new game – investments, savings, outreach, tuition, fees, a withering brand.
“I have a lot on my mind, and I tend to get emotional, it’s only natural, we are all human… I am so thankful for my workout and physio sessions, it helps keep my mind off things. My physio and trainers are my greatest support.”
Alone with her children here, perhaps being back home could have been her other support, but she is wary of returning to Manipur. “We Koms are very scared, we have to be alert all the time. We are a very small community and are caught in the crossfire between the Meiteis and Kukis, one slip and they can confuse us as belonging to the other.”
The day we meet, Mary Kom was mentioned in the Parliament’s opening session. While addressing the violence in Manipur, Bimol Akoijam, Congress MP from Inner Manipur, in a midnight speech that has gone viral, said, “You are dishonouring the likes of youths who hold the Tricolour on international platforms, the likes of Mary Kom and Mirabai Chanu. You are saying you don’t matter in this country, your state doesn’t matter… you must realise that these people have fought for this country.”
But in her home, Mary Kom is fighting another battle, silently. As age approaches, she’s planning a professional return and as a younger generation takes over the Olympic dream, memories of the past swirl in the head.
“Inside I’m burning, no,” she says with a resigned sigh, “How can I say I am not missing the Olympics. But, what to do…”

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