Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom lost her semifinal bout on Wednesday. But Manipur won a crucial round in a fistfight of the psychological kind.
For decades, this frontier state has wished it could punch away geographical isolation, underdevelopment and the separatism they've spawned. For many in Manipur — it was a princely state before merger in 1949 — India simply replaced the British. It was perhaps ironical that on Wednesday, a Briton came between an Indian and an Olympic gold.
Mary Kom's journey from a Manipuri to an Indian is often attributed to a change in mindset --- that fighting it out on a football field or boxing ring was a better career option than ambushing the armed forces.
Other Manipuri sportspersons had held the Indian flag aloft before her.
Since 1984, Manipur has produced 13 Olympians. They include P Nilkamol, K Thoiba Singh and K Kothajit (hockey), N Dingko Singh and S Suresh (boxing), L Brojeshori and K Tombi (judo) and T Sanamacha, N Kunjarani and N Soniya (weightlifting). There are of course L Bombayla, whose archery campaign in London fell through, and boxer Devendro Singh.
"More than 500 Manipuri sportspersons, including 200 footballers, are serving in various government and private organisations," said Manipur Olympic Associa-tion director L Phunindro.
These exclude some 10,000 sportspeople representing Manipur and other Indian states in 35 disciplines. Not bad for a state with only 0.3 per cent of India's population!
While the others initiated Manipur's mental union with the 'mainstream', Mary Kom raised the bar. She has made an entire generation believe it can help India be a sporting superpower --- and Manipur its athletic generator.
Some feel women's boxing was included in the Olympics four years too late for Mary Kom, a mother of two pushing 30. At Kangathei, the Kom tribe-dominated village, some 900 people believed she had it in her. "Maybe, it was god's wish that she lost," Sanpu Kom said. "Maybe, He wants others in Manipur to outdo her."