The building of the single-storey school run by a trust has seen better days. So has the old drinking-water well adjoining the nearby ancient temple. Bang opposite a four-decade-old akhara run from within the temple grounds is one of the newer boxing academies Bhiwani. In an open courtyard of the school hung two punching bags. The trainees have access to drinking water and the expertise of Bhiwani’s two sons of the soil.
The Lamboria brothers, Sandeep and Parvinder are not the biggest boxing names to emerge from the region famously called ‘mini Cuba’. Post-retirement they have done their bit to make the Lamboria household famous.
20-year-old Jaismine Lamboria’s journey to a bronze medal in the 60 kg category in the Commonwealth Games began at this family-run academy. On the brick-floor courtyard Jaismine firmed her footwork and angle of her punches under the guidance of her uncles. The five-year-old academy was started by the two former boxers to coach their niece Jaismine.
Over two dozen trainees practice here. Jaismine, with boxing in her blood, is the most famous product and is following in the footsteps of greats.
The late Hawa Singh, the heavyweight, is a household name in Bhiwani. The Lamboria’s are close relatives. The Asian Games gold medalist in 1966 and 1970 is Jaismine’s great grand uncle. A black and white photo of Singh, medals won by Parvinder and Sandeep, pictures of them being felicitated by famous people including chief ministers and a laminated prize-money check adorn the walls of the hall-of-fame corner at their joint family home. Jaismine grew up looking at these walls and hearing boxing stories of the elders in the family.
Parvinder first and then Sandeep followed in the footsteps of Hawa Singh. They were in awe of their famous uncle. During one of his visits to their home, Singh told the family it was time for Parvinder, the older of the two boys, to take up the family tradition. Soon Sandeep traveled with his brother to Vaish PG College ground where they picked up boxing. The ring was made of cement in an open ground. The facilities were basic but the coach’s name was the selling point. To get coached by the man who put Bhiwani on the boxing map was a golden opportunity. Aspiring boxers from near and far didn’t want to miss out.
“From the time I was about 10, I have good memories of him (Hawa Singh). He would take us along for functions and congratulations. I was also inspired by seeing the respect and love he got,” Parvinder said. Parvinder started boxing at 13, Sandeep at 11.
Jaismine listened to every word during story time in the joint family.
“He used to talk very fast. Half the things we could understand and the rest we would guess. He was well over six-foot. Itna bhaari haath tha unka, voh agar maar dete the aisey peet pe, toh koon nikal aata tha (Such was the strength in his hands, that if he slapped someone on the back it would bleed),” Sandeep said.
Hawa Singh rarely had to physically punish his wards. His aura created such respect and fear that one look was enough to make them fall in line. Parvinder once got a slap across his face for repeatedly clinching an opponent. He never used the defensive technique again. Parvinder became a three-time national champion in the 75 kg category and missed out on bronze by one point at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Sandeep represented India in the Youth Commonwealth Games.
Despite the family’s boxing heritage, Jaismine started with a major disadvantage. She was a girl in Haryana. Her two older siblings were girls. A boy child had died.
“Everyone was unhappy that we had three girls. That was the mindset,” Jaismine’s mother Joginder said. “But today she is on the way to becoming the most famous member of our family.”
When Joginder was expecting Jaismine, the family was going through a tough phase. Jaismine’s father Jaiveer suffered multiple fractures in a car accident. He was bedridden for a year. Jaismine’s grandfather Chandraban believed the pregnancy was the good omen which saved Jaiveer’s life.
Jasmine grew up to be a smart kid. Academically inclined and a wiz with computers, a good dancer, a fast learner in the kitchen and a promising volleyball player is how the family sums up her teenage years. “When we were invited for weddings, everyone wanted Jasmine to be there. She set the dance floor on fire and was very popular,” Sandeep said. The all-rounder in the family was bitten by the boxing bug too. Jaismine didn’t broach the topic until she was in Class 10 because she knew women in the family didn’t box.
Chandraban, the patriarch of the family, was killed against Jaismine venturing near a boxing ring. Sandeep was tasked with bringing about a change in his outlook.
“I showed Jaismine some basic drills and she picked it up fast. Her height, reach and coordination convinced me she had it in her to be a good boxer. I asked her are you sure you want to be a boxer and she nodded in a determined way. She had the talent,” Sandeep said.
This was around the time women won the only two Olympic medals for India. Sandeep used the examples of shuttler PV Sindhu and wrestler Sakshi Malik at the 2016 Olympics to get Chandraban to change his mind.
Chandraban passed away a few months after Jaismine started boxing. “I wish he could see how much she has progressed,” Joginder said.
Parvinder and Sandeep didn’t fulfill their potential because of injuries. They are living their dreams through Jasmine. The bronze is just a first step on a long road, they believe.
Footfall at the Lamboria Boxing Academy, operating out of a dilapidated school courtyard at the end of a small lane, is rising.