When you meet Shiva Thapa, the first thing that strikes you is his maturity. At 18, he is the youngest member of the India boxing team, yet he exudes the confidence of a pro. When most teens spend their time discovering the varied facets of life, Shiva has spent it learning his craft. Like his best friend, Devendro, Shiva wants to know nothing beyond boxing, at least till the Olympics.
“I would definitely like to know my opponents’ strategies beforehand, beyond that I would like to know nothing,” he says with boyish exuberance.
Ask him to recollect the days when he picked up the gloves, he says like a child still being guided by parent, “Please talk to my dad. He will tell you everything.”His house is in a nondescript corner of Guwahati, a small settlement on the base of a hill called Birubari, which gained prominence only after his selection to the India team for the Olympics. A small shop in front of the house is where his father, Padam Thapa, plies his furniture trade.
Being only one of the two players from Assam to qualify for the London Olympics after shuttler Dipankar Bhattacharjee (1996 Atlanta), Shiva along with archer Jayanta Talukdar have become household names, giving hope to millions of Assamese, who have been fighting insurgency and political unrest for more than three decades.
A huge collage of Shiva’s winning moments, including his silver at the Youth Olympics in Singapore two years ago, adorn the wall of his father’s shop. The family of eight — parents, four sisters and an elder brother — lives off the shop. As Thapa senior shows us the poster, his heart swells with pride and he welcomes us inside.
The living room resembles a museum that’s been dedicated to Shiva. The walls, with Shiva’s photographs and trophies, make one wonder how an 18-year-old can manage to win so many medals.
“His elder brother, Govind, inspired him to take up the sport,” says Padam. We even changed his school so that his game didn’t get affected. “He used to study in St John’s but we had to shift him to a school close by so that he got time to concentrate on the sport.
“Initially, we were not sure whether studies or sports would be the best for him, because in this part of the country, if you don’t have good schooling, you struggle. But the promise he showed later forced us to make up our minds.” If his brother has been an inspiration, his father has been the guiding force, helping him out with everything out of the ring. “I still remember the time when I used to take them on my bike to the SAI centre in Paltan Bazar.
The father-son bonding is such that whenever Shiva flies out for an important international assignment, Padam is there to bid him goodbye. “Earlier, monetary constraints came in the way, but now I can afford to go,” says Padam, who has just returned from Delhi after wishing his son luck for the Ireland exposure trip. Like Devendro, even Shiva doesn’t have many friends in Guwahati. “He lazes around when at home,” says his father. His mother still feels the son would have stayed with her. It is difficult to stay away from my son,” she says. “Boxing is a gruesome sport,” her words echoing maternal concern.
Now, for the big leap
Shiva, like Devendro, has spent most his life in Pune. BB Mohanty, chief coach at the Army Sports Institute still remembers those moments. “Unlike Devendro, when Shiva first came here, he was homesick. One thing that stood out was his calculated moves. He has a very good understanding of the game.”
Ask Shiva about the innate quality and he blushes. “I try and understand the opponent first and then go for attack or defence. I try to evaluate the situation and keep my cool,” he says. Shiva believes that in London he will need to be aggressive and cautious at the same time. “When you are young, you know there are experienced boxers there. But one should never get overawed.”
London will be the biggest leap for Shiva. But the self-belief should hold him in good stead — if not now then at a later date.