After fighting cancer, Dingko Singh happy to be back to the ring

“Recovering from cancer is like a second birth for me,” says Dingko Singh, the 1998 Asian Games gold medallist.

Mary Kom (left) with her inspiration Dingko Singh, on Thursday in Mumbai.   -  Vivek Bendre

In almost every conversation, M.C. Mary Kom makes it a point to admit that her interest in boxing grew because of a certain Dingko Singh, who clinched a gold medal at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998.

On Thursday, while interacting with the scribes, Mary was once again explaining how the boxing ace inspired her, when a gentleman walked into the auditorium. For a moment, Mary couldn’t believe that her ‘inspiration’, Dingko, was actually present in the auditorium. And as Dingko walked closer, Mary smiled at him in disbelief. “This is a huge surprise,” she said, welcoming Dingko on the stage. It was supposed to be a pre-event presser for the Tata Mumbai Marathon, with its brand ambassador, Mary in attendance. But the afternoon suddenly turned special with Dingko’s sudden arrival.

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The 40-year-old Dingko, who ended India’s 16-year wait for an Asian Games boxing victory in the bantamweight division in Bangkok, was diagnosed with liver cancer a couple of years ago. He had to sell his house in Imphal to raise money for the treatment in Delhi. That was the toughest phase of his life. The former Navy boxer had to leave his job at the NIS in Patiala to undergo a surgery in January 2017, and a large part of his liver was removed.

The good samaritan

He struggled to raise funds for the expensive treatment, but now, as he looks back at those days, Dingko is grateful a former India cricketer helped him out. “I will always remember how Gautam Gambhir helped me during those times. I am immensely grateful to him,” Dingko said.

Though they communicated over telephone, Dingko has never met Gambhir in person. “I wanted to meet him and thank him for everything, but that hasn’t happened so far. I hope it happens someday,” Dingko said.

A father of two, Dingko, along with his wife, lived in a tiny two-room apartment in the Shahpur Jat locality of Delhi, after selling his house in Imphal. But now, Dingko has managed to get back to coaching at the SAI-SAG Centre in Imphal. “I have also managed to build a house in Imphal. Uparwale ke daya se I am good now,” he said.

"It was a tough phase, but I'm over it now," says Dingko Singh about the days he fought cancer. Photo: Vivek Bendre

 

While regular medication has stopped, he needs to visit the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) in Delhi quite often for check-up. “I am better now. I am training around 100 students at the SAI-SAG Centre now and I am happy to be back to the ring,” he said with a smile.

‘A second birth’

“Recovering from cancer is like a second birth for me,” he said. “People thought what would happen, how would the family survive. But God has been kind,” he said. While the union government helped him, Dingko did not receive any support from the Manipur government; at least, that’s what he claims. “It was a tough phase, but I am over it now.”

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Returning to the ring, Dingko has been keeping a tab on the Indian boxers. He is quite happy with the way Amit Phangal and Gaurav Bidhuri have performed. “The quality of the game has improved immensely since our times. But the last Asian Games saw a bit of downward trend as only Mary could grab a gold. But I am sure it will get better,” he said.

There was a time when the Suranjoy Singh, Devendro were touted as the next big thing in Indian boxing, but they eventually faded out. So, what went wrong for the boxers from Manipur? “The problem is with the height. The boxers put on weight but the height remains the same. So, that’s a challenge at the higher level,” he said.

During his visit to Mumbai, Dingko is also supposed to meet a few people from Bollywood. Last year, it was reported that Shahid Kapoor would play Dingko’s character in a film based on the boxer, but Dingko still doesn’t have clarity on the future of the biopic. “I clearly don’t know whether the film will happen or not. But I feel the film should be made, because how we have worked hard and reached to this level needs to be shown to the world,” he said.

Perhaps, not just the hard work, but the struggles and setbacks, too.