HT Brunch Cover Story: A 100-watt smile!

Presenting Olympic medallist Lovlina Borgohain, 24, in one of her first fashion shoots, promoting sustainability and showcasing the diversity of Indian heritage textiles collection exclusively curated for HT Brunch
Lovlina Borgohain pays tribute to the beautiful Eri Silk of her native Assam as she proudly drapes a burgundy stole by master weaver & vegetable dyer, Narmohan Das of Sualkuchi; Styled and curated by Prasad Bidapa; Hair & Make-Up: Aditi Raman; Jewellery: Amrapali; Stole courtesy: North Eastern Handloom & Handicraft Development Board, available at Purbashree Emporium (Asha Thadani)
Lovlina Borgohain pays tribute to the beautiful Eri Silk of her native Assam as she proudly drapes a burgundy stole by master weaver & vegetable dyer, Narmohan Das of Sualkuchi; Styled and curated by Prasad Bidapa; Hair & Make-Up: Aditi Raman; Jewellery: Amrapali; Stole courtesy: North Eastern Handloom & Handicraft Development Board, available at Purbashree Emporium (Asha Thadani)
Published on Nov 13, 2021 09:23 PM IST
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Like any first conversation with an Olympic medal-winning athlete, mine starts on a congratulatory note.

“Lovlina, congratulations on your win! On behalf of every Indian, thank you for making us proud.”

I am talking to 24-year-old Lovlina Borgohain from Golaghat, Assam, who won bronze at the Tokyo Summer Olympics this past July in the Women’s Welterweight Category (69 kgs).

“And on behalf of HT Brunch,” I continue, “Another thank you for doing a fantastic job at the cover shoot. I don’t know if you’ve seen your pictures, but you look extremely glamorous.”

“Thank you so much,” one of the newest recipients of the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award says. But her show of gratitude for the second compliment may be a bit more enthusiastic than the first.

Ji haan, shoot bahut hi achcha tha… dresses bhi bahut achche the,” Lovlina says with a happy, almost shy giggle, confirming my suspicion.

In a white dress by Fashionova made from recycled ocean plastic waste, Lovlina pulls no punches! Gloves & Trainers: Adidas;Silver necklace: Amrapali (Asha Thadani)
In a white dress by Fashionova made from recycled ocean plastic waste, Lovlina pulls no punches! Gloves & Trainers: Adidas;Silver necklace: Amrapali (Asha Thadani)

It was with great difficulty that Lovlina had managed to take a few hours off from her training schedule for this photo shoot, for which veteran stylist Prasad Bidapa had agreed to curate a set of bespoke looks that celebrate Indian design.

One of the looks curated for her was the Eri silk stole by master weaver and vegetable dyer, Narmohan Das, from Lovlina’s home state. “I was especially happy to wear the shawl which comes

from where I come from,” says Lovlina. “I hope my fellow Assamese are proud that fabric from our region is gaining prominence.”

High fashion shoots like these are new to you. Are you intimidated, irritated, or impressed and taken in with this new world of glamour, I ask.

“I’m not intimidated at all,” says Lovlina resolutely. “The camera doesn’t scare me; because this is not my line of work, so even if I make a mistake, nobody will say anything. I do want to be my best, so I pose as openly as I can. I like that naya kuch karne ko mil raha hai.”

Just a month ago, Lovlina appeared on one of three covers of Vogue India’s September issue. “I come from a very different world and have always been focussed on my boxing, so when I did the Vogue shoot, I had no knowledge of magazines,” says Lovlina. “It was only after the pictures came out and the congratulations started pouring in that I realised the significance.”

Lovlina explores the heritage textiles of India in this Benares brocade ensemble with a silk chiffon wrap in purple & gold by Label Ananya; Sandals: Westside; Jewellery: Amrapali (Asha Thadani)
Lovlina explores the heritage textiles of India in this Benares brocade ensemble with a silk chiffon wrap in purple & gold by Label Ananya; Sandals: Westside; Jewellery: Amrapali (Asha Thadani)

Going in swinging

Let’s flash back to July 30, 2021. Lovlina Borgohain beat Taiwanese boxer Chen Nien-chin and let out a scream. This win had assured Lovlina an Olympic medal, so her exuberance was understandable, but uncharacteristic.

A day later, Lovlina would lose the semi-finals to world champion and eventual gold medallist Busenaz Sürmeneli of Turkey, and do something still more unpredictable.

While India celebrated yet another win at the Tokyo Olympics, gathering its biggest haul of medals ever, this young athlete took a consolatory tone.

Mera aim toh pura nahin hua,” she wrote in her diary. “But the fact that main Olympics khel paayi, wohi badi baat hai.” [“I didn’t accomplish my goal, but the fact that I participated in the Olympics, is a big thing in itself.”]

In a tribal woven trouser suit & stole by Rina Singh of Eka, Lovlina shows off the comfort of handspun & handwoven khadi wool from Bikaner, Rajasthan; Shoes: Zara; Jewellery: Amrapali; Outfit courtesy: Rajasthan Heritage Week (Asha Thadani)
In a tribal woven trouser suit & stole by Rina Singh of Eka, Lovlina shows off the comfort of handspun & handwoven khadi wool from Bikaner, Rajasthan; Shoes: Zara; Jewellery: Amrapali; Outfit courtesy: Rajasthan Heritage Week (Asha Thadani)

Lovlina Borgohain had just won an Olympic medal, yet she was consoling herself for losing the gold.

“Winning an Olympic medal is a big thing,” she says, “but I am not satisfied because my goal was gold, especially after all the hardships we went through to get to the Olympics in the first place.”

To understand this state of mind, we must look at the months preceding her win. Soon after she qualified, Lovlina was stuck at home during the first lockdown with no equipment to train. When camps began to resume, she tested positive for Covid, which resulted in her missing a crucial leg of training in Italy. As she slowly built back her strength, her mother faced health issues and needed a liver transplant, so Lovlina rushed back home to be by her side. Three months before the games, the entire team tested positive for Covid.

But the final blow was yet to come. One month before she was to compete, Lovlina herself suffered a Lisfranc injury in her right foot, a painful condition that could derail not just her preparations for the Olympics, but her entire career.

Of all these roadblocks, which was the one that made her think she might not make it to the Olympics at all?

Lovlina flies free in a recycled silk kaftan printed in bronze & black with vegetable dyes by designer Sanchita; Sandals: Westside; Jewellery: Amrapali (Asha Thadani)
Lovlina flies free in a recycled silk kaftan printed in bronze & black with vegetable dyes by designer Sanchita; Sandals: Westside; Jewellery: Amrapali (Asha Thadani)

“I was scared just once,” she says. “That was when I thought that the Olympics would not happen at all! Even two months before, the discussions continued… that was scary for me. The rest, and this includes the injury, are things that keep happening. I wanted to compete at the Olympics and win, come what may. I didn’t care if my foot broke. I wanted to play. And win!”

Even then, wasn’t her social media post, expressing disappointment at winning bronze, a bit harsh on herself?

“I wrote the post because I felt very strongly about it then. But I realise that there have been many learnings along the way,” says Lovlina. “I now know that my aggression was misplaced [in the semi-finals], and I came too close [to my opponent] with my aim. But I also realised that I can do it after all, and I’m far more confident. I know I have it in me to get the gold, but more importantly, I know my weak points and how I must work on them.”

In her corner

Conversation then steers towards Lovlina’s childhood. “When I was young, Papa had come home with something wrapped in a newspaper that had a story on Muhammad Ali. That’s what planted the idea of becoming a boxer in my head,” says Lovlina. Her twin elder sisters took up kickboxing, and Lovlina followed suit in class 9 with martial arts.

Lovlina’s story is more than that of one Olympic win. It’s a story that fights adversity from a very young age. “I was just in school and our financial situation wasn’t great. We weren’t sure whether we’d get our next meal,” she reveals. “Papa worked really hard, and my mother struggled too. But I must say that we were happy even then. My parents never let us children be affected. We had nothing, but we felt like we had everything!”

Veteran stylist Prasad Bidapa on working with the young sports star
Veteran stylist Prasad Bidapa on working with the young sports star

Is this the determination that laid the foundation for a resolute athlete? “Yes, it’s possible,” says Lovlina. “If these challenges hadn’t been there, I may not have been able to be where I am today. Seeing my parents’ struggle and not being able to help them made me more determined to win!”

Lovlina signs off with a few words for her parents: “Wohi mera Bhagwan hain. Main bas unki seva karna chahti hoon aur unhe khush dekhna chahti hoon,” [My parents are God to me. I want to serve them and ensure they are always happy].”

A sentiment that’s worth its weight in gold.

Follow @jamalshaikh on Instagram and Twitter

From HT Brunch, November 14, 2021

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021