Boxer Mary Kom was in Mumbai yesterday, to lead an initiative to create more playgrounds in Mumbai. The humble Manipur native is growing into her new role as athlete-celebrity
Mary Kom who won a bronze medal in the women's boxing (51 kg) event at the London Olympics is now facing the full glare of camera flashes and press attention post her 2012 achievement.
Yesterday, Mary was the face and voice of a corporate initiative to promote more playgrounds across India so that kids could get out more often and find a place to play.
The event was held at the amphitheater, nestling against Bandra’s historical Bandra Fort or Bandra killa as the signboard said, which in turn was next to the Taj Land’s End hotel at Bandra Bandstand. Complicated? So, it was for numerous Bandra locals who did not know where the Bandra killa was. “Bandra Fort? Oh, you mean Bandra court?” said the cabbie, before he was told no ‘Fort’ near Taj Land's End.
Finally, the venue came into view, a small amphitheater next to the landmark Bandra hotel. A security personnel from the Taj Land’s End asked curiously seeing a swarm of press photographers and TV journalists lugging their cameras to the venue, “shooting hai kya?” (Is there a film shooting on?) When told it was Mary Kom expected, he balled his hands into fists and assumed a mock fighting pose. Mary, apparently your fame spreadeth far and wide.
The event began with the co-ordinator first talking about the importance of open spaces to the press and a smattering of mothers who comprised the audience at the amphitheater. Soon, Mary Kom entered, to the sound of music and applause and an introduction that went, “we have a world champion to champion the cause of mothers. She is the queen of the ring, magnificent Mary Kom…”
Mary, in blue jeans, slippers and white t-shirt, smiled a little nervously as she took the mike. It is obvious that the boxer is still adjusting to her new, celebrity status. She sometimes gives the impression that she would rather be in the ring, bobbing and weaving amidst flying fists of fury than facing a battery of press mikes attached to journalists. But, hey, what are world champs all about? Grit and gumption. So Mary took the mike and said, “playgrounds are very necessary. We have to make children play, kushti khelo, masti karo and maybe future champions will be made like this, playing in open spaces in childhood where, children compete against each other in healthy spirit and where unlike now, there are not just building hi building.”
Then, Mary smiled graciously as she was thanked for making India proud, and laughed when she was told she would have to sing something. “Only if the moms sing along,”she said and then promptly launched into: 'Neele gagan ke tale'. She sang only one verse, but did sing quite well.
Post Mary’s song, in came television actors and celebrity moms Suchitra Pillai (who leapt in), Mandira ‘noodlestraps’ Bedi who feigned boxing with Mary Kom, Rajeshwari Badola and Manasi Joshi-Roy who put her limbs at risk in her three-inch heels, on a rain-slicked dais.
The celeb moms all spoke about their children and how space-starved they were, nowhere to play in a city that had sold its soul to concrete. Then, they along with Mary, went on a small march to create awareness about playgrounds, took a pledge about open spaces and finally left Mary to deal with a battalion of press personnel asking for interviews.
One has to mention though that these were classy ladies who have led a life in the spotlight but when it came to yesterday, they pushed the hesitant Mary Kom to hog the limelight. When a journalist asked Mary Kom about a film to be made on her life and whether she would act in it, Mary stuttered, “I don't know how to act.” The celeb moms nudged her, laughing as they advised, “You must say, yes, I will act too!”
On to the more serious stuff (yes, there was some) Mary said, “Six medals at the Olympics is a huge achievement. I know we missed the gold, but, doubling our medal tally is very good. In Rio de Janeiro, we might swell the tally further so that is good.” Asked whether she will now go back and start training for the next Olympics in Rio (Brazil), four years hence, she said, “yes” emphatically and then, did a jab, jab, routine to emphasize some of her combinations. “My combinations really depend on the opponent,” said Mary, who said she follows football and lawn tennis too.
There were a flurry of autograph seekers and it was refreshing to see children hankering for pictures and signatures with an athlete other than a cricketer, in a cricket-centric nation. The momentum is with Mary and India’s other magnificent medallists. Chalo, Rio!