New Delhi: Ever heard of a teacher and a student appearing for the same exam? Well, come Asian Games, the boxing ring will present one such instance when the Indian duo of mentor Akhil Kumar and protege Mandeep Jangra fight it out for medals in their respective categories.
At a time when Akhil was written off following an injury-plagued dip in form, he was busy grooming Mandeep even while trying to resurrect himself. And as the teacher and his disciple gear up for the same challenge -- the September 19 to October 4 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea -- they reflected on their journey together in an interview with PTI.
"I always knew it would happen. I know how adamant a competitor Akhil bhai is. I knew I would one day be a part of the same team as the Salman Khan of Indian boxing," laughed Mandeep (69kg).
"Salman happens to be my favourite actor and like Salman, Akhil bhai is a showman and a very generous person. He helps everyone who approaches him. That is why I call him the Salman Khan of Indian boxing," added the Commonwealth Games and Asian Championships silver-medallist whose formative training was handled by Akhil's wife Poonam Beniwal.
Akhil, on his part, said he never had such a plan in mind. "Mandeep would tell me this a lot of times but I would just say 'let's see, god willing, it will happen'. I never worked with such a plan in my mind. I tried to be there for him and did all I could for my own body to be back. But it's wonderful what he felt, has come true," said Akhil.
The relationship between the two boxers is six years old and Akhil said he has more expectations from his protege than himself now. "I have bigger hopes from him. He is younger and fitter. Even at the Asian Games, he will have to take care of me. Obviously, I am there to lift his spirits and advice him," said Akhil.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist has returned to the national team after a three-year battle with injuries. The 33-year-old lightweight boxer said grooming Mandeep helped him deal with the tough times of his own life. "I have always been there for youngsters who have approached me. In him I saw talent and potential so did whatever little I could. Ultimately it's his hard work and talent but it's nice of him that he takes my name," said Akhil.
"I always tell him to focus on building a strong character and the rest will take care of itself. He is talented and fit, all he needs is to steer clear of the distractions and remain level-headed." Mandeep, on the other hand, said Akhil has shaped his life and he would never want to walk away from his tutelage.
"I am learning all the time from him. His mannerisms, his never-say-die attitude, his confidence, his humility, I try to imbibe all this. He is an adamant character, never gives up even when the whole world is telling him. This belief is something that he has instilled in me as well," said the 21-year-old. To have each other around at such a big event should work to their advantage, feels Akhil.
"To know that no matter somebody is there to hold you when you fall is the biggest sense of security. I think both of us feel that for each other," he explained. Mandeep further added: "The moral support that one gets by having a close one near by can be a massive factor in improving performance. It's a sport which drains you both mentally and physically and emotional support is a must. "He understands me like no one else, I also understand him quite well and hopefully this chemistry will help our performances and both of us will come back with medals," the youngster signed off.