For Manisha Moun, one of India’s most promising boxers, 2022 has been quite eventful already. Although she only returned to international action this year from a surgery for an elbow injury she sustained in 2019, she did not want to take it easy. There was a bronze at the Thailand Open in April, then came selection in the Indian contingent for the now-postponed Asian Games through trials, and now, a bronze medal (57kg) at the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championships.
Her standards were already set high and now after winning a medal at the World Boxing Championship, the benchmark goes higher.
“It has taken a long struggle to reach here so I feel great. I also now feel confident about doing great in the future, especially for Paris,” Manisha said in a conversation with Scroll.in.
When Manisha took on Mongolia’s Namuun Monkhor in the all-important quarter-finals bout at the World Championships, there was an air of intimidating support for her opponent. The chants echoed loud and clear on the YouTube live stream. But for the Indian, that was a reason to feel more enthusiastic and determined.
“I couldn’t hear anything the coaches were saying, all I could hear was ‘Mongolia, Mongolia.’ I kept thinking, ‘Is she winning this? I’m throwing so many punches, why are there no chants for me?’ But the judges see everything and she’s a great boxer no doubt, but I gave more than my 100%,” Manisha recalled.
The bout was undoubtedly a hard-fought one as the second round went 3-2 in favour of her opponent and Manisha realised that the result could could go either way. It was time for a little pep talk.
“In the final round I told myself, ‘Chal Manisha, bas! Kar de kuch.’ Poori jaan jhonk di medal lene ke liye (‘Come on, Manisha, that’s it. Do something.’ I gave it my all to get the medal),” said the 24-year-old.
Eventually, she won the bout 4-1 and guaranteed herself a place on the podium. After a defeat in the semi-final, Manisha returned home with a bronze medal from the prestigious event.
Not an easy journey
The boxer from Mataur village in Kaithal, Haryana has not had it easy though. A tough time for her family saw her navigate the demands of the sport and training while the health of her father suffered. Krishnan Moun, who works as a tractor mechanic, suffered a heart attack in 2010.
“I almost thought I wouldn’t survive then and we saw a very bad phase as a family when I was sick,” Krishan told Scroll.in. “I took a loan for that, I also arranged for money to pay back somehow but I never wanted to let Manisha feel any pressure. We made the settlement but I didn’t let Manisha know about anything because all I cared about was her making the village, the district and India proud.”
For Manisha, though, this meant she had to learn how to compartmentalise in order to stay on track for achieving her goals. Boxing was a means to ease herself and her family out of their struggles, not just financially but also mentally.
“Whatever difficulties I’ve seen in life, I’ve always tried to keep them different from my sport. Boxing was always separate from that part of my life,” she said.
“I used to come back to my room and feel sad about whatever was happening at home, but as soon as I stepped into the boxing ring, the only thing that used to be in my mind was, ‘Manisha, you’ve to train. That is all.’ The focus for that never deterred.”
Of support systems
When she gets into the ring, it’s all on her, but to make it happen, the support system is essential.
“I’ve always had the support of everyone. It wasn’t because of one person’s push but everyone’s collective push that brought me here. My coaches Rajinder Singh and seniors Gurmeet ji and Vikram Dhull ji – their support has been vital in my practice and training,” she said.
Her basic coach Rajinder Singh, who has been training Manisha at the RKSD College Stadium in Kaithal since she was eleven years old, was the one who discovered her. Often, she used to sneak out of the house following her brother who played volleyball at the stadium, just to be closer to the sporting action.
“My brother never took me along earlier and complained to my parents. Papa also used to get worried about me travelling alone to the stadium,” she said.
“But I used to reach there, playing marbles and watch the action. There my coach Rajinder ji spotted me and asked me to give a shot at boxing because there were no girls in that sport.”
Coach Rajinder, for his part, started to polish the raw skills she had to turn her into a proper athlete.
“I saw the talent that she had and it was exactly what a boxer possessed,” Rajinder told Scroll.in. “I then conditioned her accordingly. She had the craze, determination and willpower already, maine bas usko tarasha (I just refined her).”
“In the initial two years, she played rather loosely. I made her train well, she practiced so much, she was regular... I kept wondering what was missing.
“I found out she barely ate vegetables and rice. I then made sure to call her and her parents daily and tell her to eat everything... sabzi, dal, rice. We arranged for juice to be delivered to her everyday at the academy. After an increase in her intake and with proper nutrition, she started performing better. There were results.”
Manisha recalled, “I didn’t have milk, had no interest in eating vegetables and daal. First, Papa used the method with the danda (stick). He kept the food and said, ‘Khaa, warna danda lagega.’ (laughs) He then called the coach who I was super scared of. That’s when I started eating a proper, balanced diet.”
The plan ahead
Because India has not sent an entry in the 57kg weight category at the Commonwealth Games and with the Asian Games now postponed, Manisha does not have any immediate upcoming competitions this year besides the Nationals, tentatively to be held in November. But the process of improving must carry on.
“Improvement is vital for every player, and it’s a process that keeps happening. For me, I think I should improve my strengths. It’s been 4-5 years for me at the senior level, I must keep increasing that. I also think I should up my guard... it usually drops. That gives me a disadvantage against taller boxers,” she said.
She may have had begun boxing as a means to bring security for her family but today, it’s her happy place. Even when she trains and practices with the speed bags, Manisha can be spotted jamming to Punjabi music by her favourites Amrinder Gill and Sajjan Adeeb with one thought in her mind – Paris.
And her father is proud of a daughter who has developed a habit of pulling off wonders.
“Ye hamesha kaarnaame karti thi. (She always did wonders),” he said. “Now, she is living life with a target. She has a job to do. The job is to get the gold for India. It’s her dream but it’s also ours now.”