Govind Kumar Sahani’s earliest memories of him pursuing sport — first karate and then boxing — are of his mother constantly berating him for wasting both his own time and the family’s hard-earned money.
As the son of a farmer in Gorakhpur with three other siblings, money was not easily available. And there definitely wasn’t enough to “waste” on trivial pursuits like sport.
“When I started to train as a karateka, my mother would say I was spending my time in faaltu ke kaam. She would say, ‘One one hand you’re wasting money. On the other, you’re wasting your time’. You know how it is in a middle-class family. You had to grin and bear it,” Sahani told The Indian Express after winning a silver medal in the 48kg weight class at the Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament.
Indian boxers returned with eight medals from Strandja — three silvers and five bronze medals. Despite losing gold to Uzbekistan’s Shodiyorjon Melikuziev, an Asian U-22 Championships silver medallist, the silver was a validation for Sahani that his career is on the right track.
More glory for 🇮🇳 at the 74th Strandja Memorial Tournament🥊
Pugilists Govind Kumar Sahani, Anamika & Anupama punch their way to the Finals to fight for🥇
All the best Champions 🥳👏 pic.twitter.com/1yToYL4ygL
— SAI Media (@Media_SAI) February 26, 2023
For the 25-year-old, that certainty about his career choice has never been iron-clad.
To break away from the constant questions from his mother, he moved to the sports hostel in Meerut in 2011, where at least his basics were being taken care of and he didn’t have to go to his mother asking for money. While that convinced his mother for a few years that her son wasn’t wasting his life away in a pointless sport, soon bigger doubts crept in on their own.
“Once I got into the hostel, the family suddenly started to believe in my dreams. But just a year later, the Indian boxing federation was banned by AIBA and suddenly, everything spun out of control again,” he says.
It was one of the lowest phases of his life as a boxer. With boxing events drying up due to Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF)’s suspension and no job to fall back on, Sahani almost quit the sport around 2015.
“At the hostel, my basic needs were being taken care of. But even in the small events I was competing in, I started to suspect foul play where I would dominate the opponent and still lose. I started to feel like I had hit some sort of ceiling that I couldn’t even see. There were boxers who I could have beaten with one hand tied behind my back who were at national camps. And I was still in the sports hostel. I’d not gone there just to eat free meals. At some point, I started to think to myself that my mother was right all along. This was a pointless pursuit. I went home and told her I was quitting and would do anything that would at least help me earn an income,” he says.
But instead of quitting he did something else: he switched allegiance to Nagaland and competed in the National Boxing tournament in 2018, where he won bronze. A year later, he got his first chance to represent India at the GeeBee Boxing Tournament in Finland, where he returned with a silver. Soon enough, he had a job with the Assam Rifles as well.
With the 48kg weight class not in the Olympics, he is likely to move up to the 51kg category later this year, which will see him step into the crosshairs of World Championship medallist Amit Panghal. But before that, he is eyeing a spot in the Indian team heading to the World Championships at Tashkent in May in the 48kg event.
After years of struggle, he believes he has earned a shot at claiming a World Championships medal.
“Ab nahi lagta boxer banke galti kar di. (I don’t think becoming a boxer was a mistake anymore),” he says as a matter of fact.