Vijender: Jaipur is where it all began for me

His fight against African champion Ernest Amuzu is much more than a bout. It’s Vijender’s way of showing gratitude to a city that helped a rookie transform himself into the poster boy of Indian boxing!

His move to Jaipur, after the Athens Olympics in 2004, changed his life. But even then, the name Vijender Singh sounded like any other rookie.   -  PTI

Vijender Singh appears slightly confused over the first film he watched in Jaipur. “It must have been Hum Tum,” he says with a smile on his face, only to contradict his own answer a couple of seconds later. “Or, was it Salam Namaste?”

Even though the star boxer can’t really recollect what was the first film he watched in Jaipur’s iconic Raj Mandir theatre (one of his favourite hangout spots then) — on the Mirza Ismail Road — Vijender distinctly remembers the years he spent at the Pink City.

Those days, when nobody knew who he was, the then 18-year-old — who moved to Jaipur from Bhiwani to work as a ticket-checker with the North Western Railways — would roam around in the bylanes of the city. His move to Jaipur, after the Athens Olympics in 2004, changed his life. But even then, the name Vijender Singh sounded like any other rookie.

While Vijender’s day would start early with a training session at the Railway Sports Complex, Vijender could be seen at the Jaipur railway station checking tickets during the day.

He would travel all the way from his house (which belonged to his former coach) in Vaishali Nagar — some 10 kilometres from the stadium — to reach the training ground. There was no comfort of a car, and the only resort was a second-hand bike, which he borrowed from a friend.

“Be it anytime of the year, I was always on time for practice,” he says. “I would train hard in the morning, then do my duty at the station.Uske baad toh idhar udhar ghumta tha…” he tells Sportstar, trying to explain how he lived a rather simple life in Jaipur.

“In those days, even that little salary looked huge. After work, I would almost regularly go for films at Raj Mandir, eat out, and even then, there would be enough money by the end of the month,” Vijender says.

While some of his former colleagues at the North Western Railway remember him as ‘shy young boy’, they all agree that the ‘boy’ has always been passionate about boxing. “I would rarely go to Bhiwani. Those three years (from 2004-05 to 2007-08) that I have spent in Jaipur has to be the best in my life,” Vijender says, making it clear that he had slowly fallen in love with the ‘homely city’.

“I would go the national academy in Patiala for camps, but Bhiwani tabh bhi jata, jab man karta. Most of the time would be spent in Jaipur, hanging around with friends, who were also athletes,” he says.

And after a decade of those ‘sweet memories’, Vijender is set to fight African champion Ernest Amuzu at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur on Saturday. “It is like playing at home, in front of all your known people,” he says, adding that on Saturday, he is expecting the entire Pink City to come and support him. “Woh toh sab apne hi hai. They will all come and cheer for me. It is not just about Vijender fighting, it is about a Jaipur boy playing for pride,” he says in one breathe.

During his visit to the city in the last few days — for promotions ahead of the big fight — Vijender has made it a point to visit the places that would be his ‘regular spots’ once upon a time. “I am still in love with that city. Today I may have achieved a lot, but it all started here. So, for me, Jaipur is not just a historic city, it is also about lot of emotions and sentiments,” the Olympic bronze medalist points out.

As he walks down memory lane, Vijender clearly remembers how he would go shopping at the iconic Bapu Bazar or Johri Bazar. “Coming from a small town, those things were really big for me. I would roam around the market and do a fair amount of shopping,” he says with a smile, before adding: “There was something about the city that I fell in love with.”

It’s been a decade since, but Vijender is yet to find out what is that ‘special thing’ that made him fall for Jaipur. “All I know is that this was one city that gave a struggling youngster a chance to live his dream,” the 32-year-old says.

When he steps into the ring on Saturday it would not just be another bout for Vijender. The fight against Amuzu will be Vijender’s way of showing gratitude to a city that helped a rookie transform himself into the poster boy of Indian boxing!