Pune-based National boxing champ drives tempo to make ends meet

28-year-old Mrunal Bhosale has a Bronze medal at the National championship under his belt, but no steady job to fall back on; he drives a goods carrier in Pune to eke out a living and keep his dreams of an international medal alive

Mrunal Bhosale has twin identities. Around the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Pune, where his club Maharashtra Institute of Games & Sports (MIGS) is located, the 28-year-old is known as the champion boxer, but for everyone else he is just a tempowala.

Bhosale practises for four hours every day and spends the rest of the time driving a tempo to earn his livelihood. Pics/Harit Joshi

For years, Bhosale did various odd jobs to keep himself afloat while nurturing his dream of winning a national medal and going on to make the country proud by competing in international events. Despite excelling in district- and state-level events, Bhosale had hung up his gloves in frustration in 2002 because he could not reach the national stage.

Mrunal Bhosale practises for four hours every day and spends the rest of the time driving a tempo to earn his livelihood. Pics/Harit Joshi

Bhosale practises for four hours every day and spends the rest of the time driving a tempo to earn his livelihood. Pics/Harit Joshi
Bhosale practises for four hours every day and spends the rest of the time driving a tempo to earn his livelihood. Pics/Harit Joshi

When he finally took up the sport again, four years later, the only thing that kept him going in the face of the most trying circumstances was the hope that he would get some recognition, a job and access to good training facilities, so that he could focus on his first love boxing.

Mrunal Bhosale’s coaches have advised him to take nutrition supplements, but his family cannot afford them. The boxer manages on home-cooked food
Mrunal Bhosale’s coaches have advised him to take nutrition supplements, but his family cannot afford them. The boxer manages on home-cooked food

After a struggle of more than eight years since then, Bhosale bagged his maiden National medal in the men’s elite light welterweight (64 kg) category at Nagpur in January this year. He lost to the eventual winner, Duryodhan Singh, in the semi-final to win a bronze medal, but things show no sign of changing for the pugilist.

Mrunal Bhosale has amassed so many medals and certificates in his career so far, that the family is now running out of space to keep them

Mrunal Bhosale has amassed so many medals and certificates in his career so far, that the family is now running out of space to keep them

The pugilist has amassed so many medals and certificates in his career so far, that the family is now running out of space to keep them
The pugilist has amassed so many medals and certificates in his career so far, that the family is now running out of space to keep them

“I went for a delivery recently, and the shopkeeper was shocked that I was still driving the tempo. He thought the National medal, at least, would have fetched me a job by now,” says Bhosale, who reached Pune this week to the city after attending a one-and-a-half-month camp in Patiala, where he rubbed shoulders with some of India’s top boxers.

Bhosale says he is a bit embarrassed to ride a tempo for a living, but adds that he has no choice, “I have won a lot of medals at the state and district levels. I applied for a job in the police and excise departments, but wasn’t selected.

Then someone told me that a medal at the National championship would fetch me a job, but nothing has happened so far,” he says, the disappointment evident on his face.

‘Can’t afford supplements’
For a long time, Bhosale kept himself afloat by taking up whatever came his way to get some money and keep his boxing dream alive. From selling DTH connections, putting up hoardings on the streets and installing mobile towers on buildings to even being a loan recovery agent, he has done it all.

“I had to find a solution. I couldn’t just sit at home and expect things to happen. I took up whatever came my way,” he says. Three years ago, after he won a silver medal in the Super Cup in 2012, it was Bhosale who asked his father, Tanaji, to buy him a tempo.

“I was not getting a source of income to meet my expenses. My club and friends have been very helpful, but for how long could I depend on them? I had to think of something which would give me a regular income,” he explained. Bhosale’s family was a bit apprehensive about the move initially.

Bhosale senior, who works as a fitter in the Indian Army that fetches him Rs 15,000 per month and runs an auto rickshaw in his spare time, said: “I asked Mrunal if he would be okay with riding a tempo, especially since he has to practise and work out for hours every day, and that would just add to his burden.

He said, however, that he wanted to become independent and that, until he got a job, this would keep him afloat.” “Before every competition, he requires money for travel, food, etc. His coaches have advised him to take nutrition supplements, but we cannot afford them.

He manages on home-cooked food. I have told him to be careful about doping incidents. I want him to compete in a fair way,” added the father. Bhosale makes between Rs 200-500 a day from driving the tempo.

“There are days when there are no deliveries and then there are times when I make more money in a single day than I would do in two ordinary ones,” he says, explaining the volatile nature of the business.

Ups and downs
Bhosale regrets quitting boxing for a period of four years. “I would have achieved a lot more had I not quit in 2002. But I was frustrated that I was only competing in district and state-level championships. I threw away many certificates.” He decided to put on his boxing gloves again in 2006 after his younger sister, Kirti, won a National medal in weightlifting.

Mrunal Bhosale's club MIGS at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Pune
Mrunal Bhosale's club MIGS at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Pune

“I was a little jealous,” Bhosale says candidly. Kirti was recruited by the Mumbai Police recently. Back in the ring again, Bhosale bagged a gold in his very first district tournament at Vishrambaug in the senior men’s category. In 2008, he was forced to stay away from the sport for another year after he injured his leg in a bike accident.

A year later, he won a silver medal at the state tournament and, in 2010, competed in his first senior National championship in New Delhi in the 60 kg category. The tussle between Boxing India and Indian Boxing Federation (IBF) resulted in the postponement of the 2014 Nationals, which took place in January this year.

Bhosale’s aim now is to win a National gold, which will give him a chance to represent India internationally. However, he is not sure how long he can keep the fire in his belly burning and fears that if things don’t change, he may be forced to abandon the one identity, of his two, that gives his life meaning.

No ring, just a shared road
>> There is a drastic difference in Bhosale’s body language as we leave his modest residence in the congested Budhwarpeth area to head for his club. The drooping shoulders disappear and make way for a confident pugilist.

>> The club has no boxing ring, just two boxing bags. The boxers practise on a tar road which they share with aspiring cricketers. There is no changing room either and, while leaving, they pull down the shutter where their kits are stored.

>> Bhosale says balancing the tempo business and boxing practice proves to be arduous sometimes. “Tempo drivers don’t usually load and unload the goods, but I do it myself sometimes because the loaders are very slow and I often get late for practice,” says Bhosale, who trains from 6-8 am and 7-9 pm every day.

>> The 28-year-old’s coach, Umesh Jagdale, has given him the keys of the club to practise at his convenience. “We know why he gets late. His work is such that he ends up getting stuck in traffic or the delivery is delayed. He is very dedicated, hard-working and has a strong will to succeed,” says Jagdale.

>> Bhosale, who is in his first year of Bachelors of Arts from Pune’s Desai College, gets support from his college too. He has been allowed to skip lectures under their earn-and-learn scheme 
and has been given permission to use the college gymnasium whenever he wants to, during working hours.

Official speak
Pune City Amateur Boxing Association’s Honorary Secretary Madan Wani lauded Bhosale’s spirit. “He is very determined and hungry for success. Beating all odds, he has won a medal at the National championship, which is quite commendable. I feel the government should recognise such talents and encourage them by giving them a stable job so that they can further motivate themselves to excel in their careers,” said Wani.

Rs 200-500
The daily wages that he earns by ferrying goods around in his tempo

64 kg
The elite light welterweight category in which he won a Bronze at the Nationals

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