Shiva Thapa came down to the hotel lobby dressed casually. He is so lean that he can pass off as thin. There are no bulging muscles. Like any other 22-year-old, he freely talks about his favourite television serials (Sherlock, Breaking Bad, Narcos and more), which phone he likes, why people in the Northeast have great drinking capacity, and how he does his shopping.
His hotel room is littered with uncleared plates, glasses with orange juice, towels, hand accessories, a laptop, a phone which kept buzzing with WhatsApp messages and unfolded clothes. He once forwarded a riddle, the answer to which was ‘Old Monk’. Just like any 22-year-old.
His Facebook has selfies with his family and friends and his many trips abroad to train and box. He likes the attention. Just like any 22-year-old.
Shiva has already taken part in two World Championships, two Asian Championships, one Asian Games, one Commonwealth Games and the Olympics in 2012.
He has also won gold at the Asian C’ships in 2015, a silver medal at the Youth Olympics in 2010 and the bronze at the Worlds in 2015. He is World No 3 in the bantamweight (56kg) category.
Not long ago, he was making headlines for becoming the youngest Indian boxer to qualify for the Olympics; today he is one of the country’s top medal hopes – fast, exciting and aggressive – the only visible successor to Vijender Singh’s boxing stardom.
Shiva is an orthodox boxer – but light, agile and with excellent movement. His brother and sparring partner Govind describes him as ‘technical, always on the lookout to outsmart his opponent rather than knock him out’. Jabs with upper cut combinations are his favourite. However, both he and his father Padam say that Shiva’s biggest strength is his focus — and this is no surprise.
Shiva was always destined for a successful career – after all, he comes from a family of fighters, and not in the figurative way. He has four sisters – three of them were into athletics and one of them into badminton but didn’t pursue sport as a career. His brother is also a professional boxer who is a national-level gold medallist and in with a big chance to break onto the India scene after spending two years at SAI camps.
But the real architects of Shiva’s career are his parents. His father Padam trained children in karate and other martial arts. Padam’s brother Gome trained children in kung-fu. In fact, Padam also won a bronze medal in karate at national level.
So learning how to fight comes naturally to the Thapa family. Shiva has spoken of how he grew up in an area where gang-fights were quite common. But imagine being brought up amid conversations of different kicks and punches and how much protein one should consume to build agile muscles. This is not to say Shiva was born in an atmosphere where violence was encouraged – but used as a method of discipline and sport to eventually make a living. To make a name. To bring glory to the country.
“I’ve dabbled in kung-fu, karate, taekwondo and even boxing,” Padam Thapa toldScoopwhoop in an interview inside a vanity van, while waiting for Shiva, who was shooting for a pre-Olympic promo.
But his son was not into boxing from the start. Shiva doesn’t bat an eyelid when asked what his alternate career would have been: “Football,” he said, quite emphatically. But that passion didn’t last long.
Padam, driven and dogged in his approach to make his son do something worthwhile, stepped in. “I always told him that if he wanted to win, if he wanted Olympic glory, he would need to choose an individual sport — and not football or cricket, which they liked and played as well. India is never going to win anything in football and I was already into contact sport, so boxing was an easy choice,” he said.
Before moving away to SAI centres across India, Shiva lived in a pakka house which has an area to train: basic gym facilities, punching bag etc. Everything was already set for a valid future in boxing. Since the age of six, Shiva followed a regimented life – wake up at 3 am, run for 3 kms and a mixture of a hundred push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. Now he skips 3000 times, does 500 push-ups and 1000 crunches and runs 18 kms every day. There were no video games, not many friends. “We were mostly in the house… he’s made a lot of sacrifices,” Govind said.