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Children’s Day Special: The HT Brunch Exclusive with Mary Kom and her cute little boys!

We organise a picnic for the Olympic boxer and discover a sensitive side that we’ve never seen before!

brunch Updated: Nov 10, 2018 23:04 IST
Veenu Singh
Veenu Singh
Hindustan Times
Mary Kom,picnic,boxing champ
Mary Kom bonding with her kids Rengpa, Prince and Nainai. Location courtesy: Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi; Art direction: Amit Malik; Make-up and hair: Artistry by Anjali Jain. On Mary: Dress, Forever New. On Rengpa (left): Shirt and shorts,UCB; shoes, Nike. On Prince (centre): T-shirt and shorts, UCB; shoes bought from Vietnam. On Nainai (right): Shirt, UCB; shorts, Zara Kids; shoes, Nike(Prabhat Shetty)

Like every parent travelling on business, Mary Kom makes it a point to return with gifts galore – toys, books, even eatables. Like all children, Mary’s three boys – 11-year-old twins Karong Rechungvar Kom and Karong Khupneivar Kom (nicknamed Rengpa and Nainai respectively), and five-year-old Karong Prince Chungthanglen Kom – love the gifts. But what they love more is the fact that their mother is home.

“Whenever the kids learn that I’m going to leave for a tournament, the first thing they ask is when I will be back. That’s very touching for me,” says Mary who, unlike other business travellers, often returns home not only with gifts for the children, but with medals from her sport – boxing.

The champion boxer, holder of the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Arjuna Award and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, has returned from the 13th Silesian Open Boxing Tournament for women in Poland with a gold medal (her third this year) in the 48kg category. She’s now gearing up for the 2018 edition of the Women’s World Boxing Championships that will soon be held in Delhi. So, to celebrate both her medal and her homecoming, HT Brunch organised a picnic on the lawns of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi, that has her children squealing with excitement.

Mary married football player K Onler Kom in 2005 who gave up football and became a stay-at-home dad. On Mary: Dress, MangoXMyntra. On Nainai (left): T-shirt, United Colors of Benetton (UCB); shorts, Zara Kids; shoes, Nike. On Prince (centre): T-shirt and shorts, UCB; shoes bought from Vietnam. On Rengpa (right): T-shirt and shorts, UCB; shoes, Nike. On Onler: T-shirt and trousers, Minizmo; watch, Golgen; shoes, Nike (Prabhat Shetty )

“Picnic! We have never gone on a picnic,” screams an exhilarated Prince, leaping about the lawns as Rengpa and Nainai mock sword-fight with the fallen leaves of a tree.

With a big grin on her face, 35-year-old Mary watches her children horse around. “Most women have just one or two children, I am very lucky that I have three and even luckier that despite having three children, I’m still able to follow my passion for boxing,” she says. “But this would not have been possible without the support of my husband and our families.”

Mothers and medals

Mary playing with her five-year-old son Prince Kom (Prabhat Shetty)

Mary married football player K Onler Kom in 2005. It took much strength of mind to overcome the patriarchal mindset that a woman should not work – and especially not make sports a career – after marriage. The fact that her sport is boxing made it worse. Because boxing as we all know, despite the fact that women’s championships exist all over the world, is not a woman’s sport anyway.

“Why should only the woman make sacrifices? Mary has struggled hard, I don’t want her to throw it away to follow norms…”–K Onler Kom, Mary Kom’s husband

The patriarchal campaign became worse when Rengpa and Nainai made their appearance in 2007. How can a mother not take care of her children full-time? How can she train and travel the world, and bring back championship medals while her children grow up without her?

Mary’s ‘job’ may be different from what we consider jobs, but she’s like any other working mother: torn between the need to follow her passion and the well-being of her children.

So. it’s fortunate that her determination to continue her boxing career is matched by her husband’s determination to back her, because 44-year-old Onler gave up football and became a stay-at-home dad, leaving Mary free to bring home the medals.

“Picnic! We’ve never gone on a picnic before…” —Five-year-old Prince Kom

“Onler pushed me every time I was ready to give up,” says Mary.

She considered dropping her career twice. The first time was when her father-in-law passed away. Just a week earlier, he’d watched her win a world championship and was delighted. “He’d changed his attitude towards me after watching me win, and was full of admiration for my talent,” says Mary. “His sudden demise had us in shock and I did not want to continue with boxing. But my husband insisted I shouldn’t worry about what people say, but just concentrate on the game.”

Onler was just as supportive when Mary was pregnant with the twins and worried about balancing her career with motherhood. “He has made a lot of sacrifices for me. And my niece and my cousin have also been very helpful, giving my children a mother’s love,” says Mary.

“I wanted a daughter. A girl would have understood my struggles in a more sensitive way…” —Mary Kom

For Onler, backing Mary comes naturally. “It’s always said that behind every successful man there is a woman who sacrifices her own dreams and goals. But why should only the woman make the sacrifice?” he asks. “Mary has struggled hard to achieve all that she has, and I don’t want her to throw it all away just to follow the norms.”

Onler’s support and Mary’s determination show the nation how life could be for Indian women if Indian men were less entitled to prime positions. At the very least, however, Mary’s success has been an inspiration to other Indian sportswomen, who are now braver about following their passions.

That makes her immensely proud, though like all working mothers, she also has moments of regret. “If you have seen the biopic made on my life (Mary Kom, starring Priyanka Chopra), you’d remember the incident involving my son’s heart problem. That was not fictional,” she says. “This was in 2011 when I had to leave for the Asian Cup championship in China. Khupneivar (Nainai) had a congenital heart disease and needed surgery. I had been selected for the championship, but I was shattered and couldn’t even train properly. Onler convinced me to go. I left with a heavy heart. Smartphones weren’t easily available then, and it was hard to stay in touch with my husband and I played that game with a heavy heart. By God’s grace not only did I win a gold for the country, but my son’s surgery was a success.”

Bring on the boys

Mary focuses on her boys when she can, cooking them their favourite meals! On Mary: Dress, Forever New. On Rengpa (left): Shirt and shorts,UCB; shoes, Nike. On Prince (centre): T-shirt and shorts, UCB; shoes bought from Vietnam. On Nainai (right): Shirt, UCB; shorts, Zara Kids; shoes, Nike (Prabhat Shetty )

The twins are aware that their mother is a champion boxer and a celebrity. Though football is their game, they are proud of their mother’s achievements. “Every time mom comes back with a medal, we are happy, and when our friends talk about it, we feel proud,” pipes up Nainai.

Mary was speechless when she first learned about having twins. If, however, she were the type to see symbols, she’d have known she’d have two babies, thanks to a certain pumpkin plant.

“When I conceived, I sowed a pumpkin plant in our kitchen garden,” she laughs. “Only two pumpkins grew on it, and they were joined together. Maybe it was a divine sign!”

“When they [the kids] fight, I tell them that even boxers only fight during a competition; the rest of the time, they’re friends!” —Mary Kom

But since the ‘divine sign’ went right over her head, and she had no ultrasounds in the early stages of her pregnancy, Mary was unconscious of the existence of a second baby. “I should’ve known,” she admits. “I have a small frame and my stomach had grown so big that I’d joke I was having twins. Then the joke came true!”

After the twins were born, Mary was keen to try for a girl, but Baby No. 3, who arrived six years later, turned out to be a boy too. “I’m very blessed, but like most women, I wanted a daughter,” smiles Mary as she hands out sandwiches to the children. “A girl would have understood my struggles in a more sensitive way. Also, as you grow old, a daughter not only takes better care of you, she is also more perceptive of your needs. Till today my mother shares her problems more with me than anyone else.”

Busy with her training, Mary does not spend as much time with the children as Onler, but as she chases them away from the pool on the hotel grounds, she acknowledges that three boys can sometimes be quite difficult to manage. Though she focuses on them when she can, cooking them their favourite meals, and playing with them, it turns out that of the two parents, she is the disciplinarian.

“The kids are more scared of her scoldings than mine,” laughs Onler.

While this may be the Koms’ first picnic, they spend as much time as possible together as a family. On Mary: Dress, Forever New; sandals, MangoXMyntra. On Onler: T-shirt and trousers, Minizmo; shoes, Nike. On Nainai (sitting): Shirt, UCB; shorts, Zara Kids; shoes, Nike. On Rengpa (lying down): Shirt, Zara Kids; shorts, UCB; shoes, Nike. On Prince (on shoulders): Shirt and shorts, UCB; shoes bought from Vietnam (Prabhat Shetty )

“But I scold them only when they do things that might turn dangerous,” interjects Mary. “For instance, playing with scissors. I may lose my cool at times, but I mostly explain why they should not do what they’re doing. And when they fight with each other, I tell them that even boxers fight only during a competition; the rest of the time they are friends. It’s essential to tell children what’s wrong and right.”

While this may be the Koms’ first picnic, they spend as much time as possible together as a family. In Delhi, there are days at the mall, and dinner at restaurants of the children’s choice. “My kids love Japanese food and we often go to Kofuku at Ansal Plaza. Or we order their favourites at home. We once went to the Delhi zoo, which they loved, and when I’m away, Onler takes them for movies, and they hang out with my nieces,” says Mary. “And they love the festivals that are celebrated in Delhi, particularly Diwali when all the markets are decorated. Now whenever Prince sees lights, he thinks it’s Diwali!

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From HT Brunch, November 11, 2018

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First Published: Nov 10, 2018 22:53 IST