indian boxing

Saturday provides Vijender Singh the perfect chance to end a glorious 2016 on a resounding high

India’s reigning super middleweight champion will defend his title in Delhi against Tanzania’s Francis Cheka.

For all the noise about going pro and entering the “big leagues”, there remains an amateurish, boyish charm about Vijender Singh. There is a sense that the boy from Bhiwani has remained just so; a boy caught in a fascinating warp, thirsting evermore for glory, bubbling with untapped reserves.

There never seems to be a point where Vijender Singh relaxes, or settles for anything less than he feels he deserves or can achieve. The end goal is now a big, showy belt, quintessentially American in its size and lure, and Vijender, the current World Boxing Organization Asia-Pacific champion, will be seeking to retain his hard-fought title.

His opponent, Tanzania’s Francis Cheka, is massively popular in his home country, although he has recently seen a souring of relations when he was sentenced to jail for assaulting his bar manager. Cheka, at 34, is three years Singh’s senior, but has over 17 years of professional boxing experience, and has held the World Super Middleweight title. His record shows a steady, consistent performer with 32 wins and eight defeats, but no wins away from the African continent raise the question marks that Singh will look to add on to.

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Boxing still taking baby steps in India

Professional boxing is a baby sport here in India. And not just as a sport, but in terms of public awareness, publicity, hype, glamour and monies. Singh has had to travel to various promotional events across the capital, conduct innumerable interviews arranged by his promoters, and literally implore people to come for his fight on Saturday.

Compare this with the Americas, and you see the stark differences. The star pro boxers there are celebrities and millionaires, the product of a well-oiled sports PR machinery, and the cynosure of millions of eyes. Hopes rest on individuals, cutting across borders and religious affiliations. Forget every punch in the ring, every move on a dance floor is analysed, every suspicion of substance abuse taken seriously, and every relationship or marital discord displayed and discussed at length. Celebrity boxers can be created with the right creative mix of a story, and constant television appearances.

Singh and his promoters can artificially stimulate a feeble version of that hype machine, as the curiosity remains high, but the end result of the bout is what matters in India, and even then, it has the shelf life of an enjoyable meal. Singh realised (and has bemoaned) this early on in his career. There is no doubt though, that the square jawed, good looking Haryanvi has managed to capture the attention of a majority of the population, and his decision to go pro and fight in India could well be a masterstroke, should he win this second bout in his country.

Can Vijender make it 8-0?

Singh vs Cheka has seen its share of mild trash talk and customary face-offs, but there is sweet naïveté to it when it comes to Vijender Singh. Cheka was in good form in the pre-match press conference, all bluster and show as he sought to demean the Singh’s achievements, his experience and his decision to fight him. Singh, on the other hand, looked like he was shooting for another episode of Roadies, and that the producers had told him to put his best “mean face” on.

Singh is a thoughtful, calculated boxer. His steady technique is not particularly television or stadium friendly, especially for an audience whose greatest interaction with pro boxing till date is probably Rocky Balboa vs Ivan Drago on Star Movies. While Singh may not go hell for leather, the most interesting aspect to notice would be to see just how far he has come in the last 18 months. With seven fights and a title under his belt, a year of training can seem much longer, especially given the late hour of his arrival onto the professional scene and the scarcity of time in front of him. His movements, balance and control will be the key as he seeks to take down his opponent.

Boxing is often considered a rudimentary, archaic and barbaric sport, with bludgeoning blows to the skull causing innumerable problems to boxers in the later stages of their career and life. There is little doubt of the reasons for its visceral attraction, though. With no ball acting as the centre of attention, this sport puts flesh and bone against each other, glorifying sweat, blood and glory in the process. For the fresh-faced Singh, this has been and will continue to be his life. There has been sacrifice and pain along the way, but all that will fade should he stand, arms aloft and victorious, on Saturday.

For us, the secondary glory chasers, this could be the beginning of something very special.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.