She speaks softly, a smile lighting up her face now and then. Her sparkling eyes and dimpled cheeks draw as much attention as her ability to articulate her thoughts. Standing at close to six feet, she comes across as a genial giant but watch her rain blows on the punching bag, you will sense Kavita Chahal’s boundless energy and sharp focus.
It does not seem to matter that she is not in her boxing clothes and has not warmed up properly; it does not seem to matter to her that her infant son Viraj is nestling in the arms of his father, Sudhir Kumar Kharab. The pair of gloves on her fists and the punching bag, dangling teasingly, charge her up and those who are watching her can feel the intensity and power.
Indeed, Kavita is making her journey back to the National squad, drawing a leaf from her friend MC Mary Kom’s book. “I draw inspiration from the fact that my didi (elder sister) came back after having three kids to win the world championship for India,” she says. “I have some unfulfilled dreams and I am blessed that my husband and in-laws have been so supportive of me.”
Truth to tell, Kavita could have put her feet up and settled down to balancing her life as a police inspector in Haryana and mother of a year and a half old son. She has two bronze medals at the World Women’s Boxing Championship in Bridgetown (Barbados) in 2010 and in Quinhuangdao (China) in 2012. And she has four medals from the Asian championship as well.
In 2013, she became only the third woman boxer after MC Mary Kom (2003) and Sarita Devi (2009) to be given the Arjuna Award. And though Haryana Police has not promoted her to Deputy Superintendent grade, she was given the State’s highest sports recognition, the Bheem Award the following year.
Yet, the itch to include boxing in her daily life yet again was irresistible. Barely five months after delivering Viraj, she was back in training, and soon won gold at the Haryana State Championship. And before her son was a year old, she was punching her way to the final of the National Women’s Boxing Championship in Haridwar.
She remembers that she beat a former world champion Semsi Yarali (Turkey) by one point to get to the semifinals of the World Championship in 2012. At the same time, she hasn’t forgotten her 0-3 defeat by Russia’s Zenfira Mahomedalieva in the quarterfinals of the 2014 edition in Jeju City, South Korea. Clearly, it is the urge to add more medals at the world level that is her driving force.
“It is not an easy sport to play if you are feeble-hearted – you get hit whether you win or lose,” she points out during a short drive from her home in Uttam Vihar Colony to the National Boxing Academy, housed in the Rajiv Gandhi Sports Complex. “But boxing has been such an integral part of my life and has given me so much.”
She is emotional when she recalls her father Bhup Singh taking her to the Bhiwani Boxing Club, 25km away from their village, Nimri, each day, and then letting her stay in Bhiwani with other girls who pursued boxing. “It was his pair of gloves that I wore first. And I would not have reached this far without the unconditional support of Sudhir and my in-laws,” she says, praising her progressive mother-in-law Krishna Devi for not insisting she wear the ghunghat (veil) at home.
It is with such backing that she also completed her graduation in 2012. The respect she has for her seniors is evident when she speaks of Mary Kom as her didi and, upon arrival at the Academy, latches on to each word spoken by former National champion Poonam Beniwal, now Boxing Federation of India’s High Performance Manager.
The pride in her heart surfaces spontaneously when she comes face-to-face with a massive poster of hers at the well-appointed Academy. She has inspired not only younger brother and niece Soniya Chahal but also a host of girls from Nimri. Small wonder then that she aspires to set up a boxing academy in her village.
Her eyes shift from being playful to intense when she speaks of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award as a goal. And nobody knows more than her that it is not handed on a platter. Kavita, who will turn 32 on April 8, will have to deliver the best results at the Asian Championship and the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast (Australia).
With massive support from her family, she has definitely defied quite a few stereotypes, most notable being her decision to retain her maiden name and return to the boxing ring as a mother. Now at the National camp in Delhi, she is relentlessly pursuing her dream, making sacrifices and inspiring countless young girls in Haryana and beyond.