When Deepak Singh stepped out of the ring after his final bout at the Senior National Boxing Championships last month, he was flooded with congratulatory messages. After all, on his first major appearance at age 20, the rookie had upset two-time Olympian and favourite L. Devendro Singh of Manipur.
As he stripped off his gloves, still trying to catch his breath, another boxer from the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) walked up to him, and summed it all up with a question that most at the Sarusajai Indoor Stadium in Guwahati were asking.
“Bhai, tu hai kaun (Brother, who are you)?” he asked.
The new flyweight champion simply smiled and said, “Mera naam Deepak Singh hai, main Chandigarh se hoon (My name is Deepak Singh and I’m from Chandigarh).”
Growing up in that city’s Sector 52, Deepak always wanted to take up a sport. But his father’s government job in the electricity department did not allow for luxuries such as sport. But on a birthday around eight years ago, Deepak was finally handed the chance to take up the sport like most children in an urban setting—in a gym where anyone could enrol.
“Mujhe maar-dhaad ka bada shok tha (I liked the idea of fights). My mother was really concerned at the start—mukke padenge, maar lagegi, kya karega (What will you do when you get beaten)?” he says.
Deepak soon embraced the daily grind of boxing. Starting at 4am, he would ride his bicycle to the Sector 46 sports stadium and train from 5.30-8.30am. After a quick breakfast and shower, he would attend school and then head out for another training session from 3.30-8pm, trying to squeeze in an hour of studies.
“Results failed him for a long time, but he was always dedicated to boxing,” says Deepak’s coach, Bhagwant Singh.
“I am short and was severely underweight then. I was often told, ‘Tu bachcha hai, kya karega boxing karke?’ (You are a child, what are you going to achieve with boxing?). What you are seeing now is a very different me,” Deepak says, smiling.
“I knew my boxing was suffering because of the hours I had to put into my studies. But I also knew I had to get a job at some point to sustain my family. I even considered giving up boxing in class X,” he says.
All that changed the following year when he landed his first medal—a bronze at the school nationals, followed by another bronze at the same tournament the following year. After that, Deepak knew he had to put education on the back-burner to chase his boxing dream. Over the next two years, he started spending more time in the ring.
It all paid off with gold at the All India Inter University Boxing Championship last year.
“My family is my strength. We don’t have enough, but they never refused me anything when it came to boxing. The gold affirmed their belief in my abilities and it triggered my Olympic dream,” he says.
The senior nationals was the first test for Deepak in the big league. He almost didn’t make it to the championship. “Our train from Chandigarh was to reach a day before the weigh-ins. But it was delayed and, at times I was stranded in between stations without any food. I made it to Guwahati late at night, with just a few hours of sleep before the start,” he says.
Fatigued, Deepak began poorly but gained in confidence with every round. After four rounds, which included a walkover, it was Devendro’s experience that stood between him and the gold.
“My coach told me, ‘Hamare paas paane ko sab kuch hai, magar uske paas khone ko bohot kuch pada hai (We have everything to gain, but he has a lot to lose). So I started off with that attitude and never let Devendro find his rhythm,” says Deepak, who was also declared the best boxer of the championship.
“I want to build on this performance in order to go to the 2020 Olympics and come back with gold,” Deepak says. If he makes it, there will be no need for any more introductions or train journeys.
Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based writer.
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