The low-pitched ‘thud’ of the punch landing on her opponent was accentuated by the silence surrounding her. Apart from biffs and thumps following every punch, occasional cheers, though not too loud, and rare hoots that would fade out soon were the only sounds that would break the silence. And even if there were other sounds, 16-year-old Alia Soomro had blocked them successfully. Focused and determined, she was resolute to win another game.
She hailed from Lyari - an old neighborhood of Karachi, home to sportspersons and sports enthusiasts for years. Even years of anarchy and gang wars had not been able to dampen the spirits of its resilient residents.
So, it was natural for Hanif Soomro, Alia’s father, to encourage her to take up boxing when he saw her growing interest in the sport.
“She was eight years old and in the third grade when I started noticing that every time we would pass by Pak Shaheen Boxing Club, she would look at girls getting trained there with longing,” he recalled.
Hanif introduced her to the boxing ring, which, for him, was a substitute to the football field, where he had dreamt of scoring winning goals in his younger days.
A daily wage earner who supports a family of six on a meagre income, loading and unloading heavy commercial goods throughout the day, he was once a budding footballer. Later, forced to work to survive hard times, he had to give up on his passion.
He saw Alia’s growing interest in boxing as an opportunity to live his dream of emerging as a successful athlete through her. He would accompany her to the training club and boxing competitions - Alia hasn’t lost a single competition thus far. He was there to hold her at every fall and assure her every time she would doubt her ability, talent and chances to win.
“Alia had the fear of getting hurt and I had to help her overcome that barrier,” he said. “I was injured multiple times when I used to play football, but every injury increased my morale. You cannot let the fear of injury come in the way of the joy of success.”
Hanif could see the fire in his daughter to make a name for herself in the world of boxing. He had witnessed her getting fascinated by, and in awe of, sports women wearing boxing gloves, landing punch after punch on sandbags. It would have been unfair, he thought, had he let her give up on her passion, as well as his own so to speak.
He imbued her with confidence and a sense of purpose and got her registered at Pak Shaheed Boxing Club, on the condition that she would give her best at playing the sport. And as promised, Alia began scoring victories, one after the other.
She is so far unbeaten in all competitions of her weight division that she has participated in. Besides, he has participated in boxing tournaments at the national level. In a three-round match, she beat a boy, emerging as the first female boxer to have beaten a male opponent of the same age and weight as her in the country. When she was representing Karachi in All Balochistan Khair Mohammad Kakar Tournament, she won a match without any fight as her opponent, a player from Quetta, refused to face her in the ring.
Given her long list of wins at such a young age, the United Nations Children’s Fund has included her in a list of children who have demonstrated extraordinary talent. She is also covered under another one of UNICEF’s programmes that highlights children from Pakistan who have achieved success despite facing difficult circumstances.
But this is not it for Alia. Someone who idealises Muhammad Ali, a boxer who is celebrated worldwide, she realises that she has a long way to go, to carry forward her and her father’s dream. And working hard day in and out, she is well on the path to success.
This story is part of a weekly series that seeks to bring to light the unsung heroes of Karachi - the hawkers, traders, doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers and daily-wage labourers. It is they who make Karachi the city of lights.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2021.
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