There was a period in Jai Bhagwan’s life when he didn’t care a fig about anything, not even boxing. He didn’t answer the phone from Indian Boxing Federation (IBF) officials or coaches, didn’t turn up for training and didn’t compete in the National championships. Did he sit at home and while away his time? Did he pick up petty fights in bylanes on the slightest pretext? Or did he simply hit the walls with his bare knuckles when he wanted to spar? No one knows for sure. It’s a grey area in Bhagwan’s life that he doesn’t like to shed light on. Others, though, can’t seem to forget.
‘‘He got serious only after the Olympics, after Vijender’s triumph. He was not sincere before that,’’ said GS Sandhu, the national coach of boxing, adding, ‘‘I think there were too many things on his mind, it was cluttered with a lot of distractions. For a good six to twelve months he just wouldn’t respond to any calls. He was incommunicado. He only said that he had some domestic problems when we quizzed him about the sudden banishment. When anyone says that they are having domestic problems you don’t question that person further. So we left the issue there.’’
Long after the phone calls from IBF died out, Bhagwan turned up one day, to everyone’s pleasant surprise. He hasn’t turned a wrong corner since, winning silver in the Asian championships and gold in the Commonwealth boxing championships this March. ‘‘He has changed himself a great deal. He is a strong determined boxer who employs short and long range with equal felicity. He is capable of throwing power punches and then going into a shell, which in boxing parlance is called covering himself up for defence. There is no reason why he shouldn’t do well in CWG,’’ analysed Sandhu.
Akhil Kumar, who is Bhagwan’s sparring partner at NIS Patiala, also reflected on the technical acumen of the lightweight boxer. ‘‘His appearance, dubla-patla sa (lanky), is deceptive. Looking at him, you would think he can do no harm. You think you have a chance to mess with him, that he can be muscled out. Everyone thinks so till they are at the receiving end of his quick-as-wink straight punch. He has that ziddi (stubborn) character which has helped him to bounce back in his career. He has proven that he belongs up there with the best by winning the silver in Asian championships and then gold at the Commonwealth boxing championships,’’ said Akhil, who along with the assistant national coach Jaidev Bisht feels that Bhagwan doesn’t look the boxer he is when he is training at the National camp.
‘‘My sparring partners tell me that I’m not at my best during training. But I tell them it’s not a correct analysis. They know me well, they practice with me everyday so they know from where my next punch is going to come from. They don’t understand they are habituated to that. That’s why it appears as if I’m not putting my best. In competitions the opponent is not familiar with my style even if he has watched my video a million times,’’ said Bhagwan, who grew up in Hissar listening to the thud of his neighbour Pritam’s fist hitting the heavy bag day and night. There are certain aspects to Bhagwan’s personality that even people who are familiar with him don’t get. And it’s not just about the grey area.