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Autobiographical Knock-out


By M.C. Mary Kom
HarperCollins, Delhi, 2013, pp. 155, Rs. 199.00


In the past few years Indian sportspersons, like their western counterparts, have exhibited unusual interest towards telling their personal stories in the form of authorized biographies or autobiographies. While it speaks of the exceptional cultural gains that the autobiography has made in recent times, it also points towards the growing ‘market’ of sports as a whole. These life-narratives are not just restricted to the on-field achievements of players. Mary Kom’s life-story Unbreakable: An Autobiography is more than a personal narrative of punches exchanged in the boxing ring, it is equally about Manipur and the tribal Kom community she hails from.     Being acutely aware of her ‘inability to communicate effectively in either Hindi or English’ (p. 55) Mary Kom hands the responsibility of transcribing her tale over to Dina Serto, a lecturer in history at Imphal’s G.P. College. Actively engaged in chronicling the Kom community as a historian, Serto weaves in anthropological details of the Kom tribe. The well-defined roles of men and women, their belief in black magic, the serious affair of naming the babies, the architecture of bamboo huts, the farming activities, and the division of land—all cultural aspects develop meticulously in the narration dovetailing the boxer’s personal life in it. The elaborate descriptions of wedding rituals such as the ‘boiling tea sessions’ and ‘thanksgiving feast’ remind every bit the readers of Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s similar insights into the Igbo culture in his path breaking work Things Fall Apart. Dina Serto thus seems to be a shareholder in Mary Kom’s desire to ‘popularize the culture and ethos’ of her tiny tribe (p. 53). Unbreakable: An Autobiography is a representative life-story that blurs the distinction between ‘I’ and ‘We’. It speaks at a larger level about the political scenario in Manipur and its adverse effects on the lives of people. Mary Kom laments that ‘with a population of a mere twenty-seven lakh, it is home to over thirty militant groups’ (p. 74). Mary Kom’s family becomes a direct victim of violence when her father-in-law is killed by the militants and her husband plans to avenge his father’s death by joining insurgency himself. The book devotes a full chapter to people’s struggle against militancy but it refrains from discussing the part played by civil rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila in the battle against violence. In the insurgency ridden Manipur, Mary Kom reckons sports ...

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