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Jayesh Desai, the Mukkabaaz 'milkman' from Gujarat

Jayesh Kumar Desai became the first boxer from Gujarat in over 30 years to win a medal at the Nationals Jonathan Selvaraj/ESPN

There is one aspect of Jayesh Kumar Desai's career track that many Gujarati men can relate to.

Desai had studied for a degree in commerce and started his own business soon after. He has done well for himself, opening a chain of Mother Dairy booths across the Gandhinagar district. He had bought a couple of cars, got married at 18 and has a daughter too.

On Tuesday afternoon, though, Desai veered far off that beaten path. By knocking out Tamil Nadu's J Sabari in the welterweight (69kg) quarterfinals of the 2019 Boxing Nationals in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, the 28-year-old had assured himself of at least a bronze medal. It is the first national medal in over 30 years for the state known more for its business acumen than fistic prowess.

"This is the first medal at the National Championships for Gujarat since Yarruddin Siddi won a bronze at the Sangrur in 1986," says Rupendra Singh Bhadauriya, chief coach of the Gujarat team at the Nationals. Even in the years after Siddi's achievement, the boxing landscape in the West Indian state was barren.

"But kaafi ziddi tha (he was very stubborn)," says his father Ambalal Desai. The son started with kung fu but soon gave that up because it seemed like he was getting ripped off.

"For three years I was learning kung fu but realised there was no competition in the state," Desai says. "If I wanted to compete outside, I had to pay the money to go to competitions, then they charged money to register me and after that I don't win anything even if I win a medal? Whenever there's money involved in something, I know something's not right."

On the advice of a coach, Desai picked up boxing and owing to the limited competition in Gujarat, soon won the State Championships and competed in his first nationals in 2009.

"It was an eye-opening experience. Har koi mukkabazz jo kuch tha Haryana se tha (everyone who was anything was from Haryana). Everyone who won a medal was from there. I was nowhere."

The realisation of the gulf in class, and the subsequent banning of the National Federation in 2012, meant that the dream of boxing slowly took a back seat. Instead, Desai settled on a business career. His family has long been involved in the milk trade, with Ambalal running a successful milk dealership in Gandhinagar.

"Around that time, (national milk company) Mother Dairy came into the market. At that time Amul had the entire market and they they saw that my father had a good reputation so they asked me and my brothers if we could help run their operations in the district."

Ambalal had only the single store, but the younger Desai has multiplied that number manifold.

"I'm the guy who handles the milk sales for Mother Dairy in the city. I have booths all over the city, probably some 200 or so," he explains. It was a more than successful venture. "Business was doing well and I was making plenty of money. I bought a couple of cars."

Desai had settled into a life of balancing books and managing payments to vendors when a disagreement in the business relationship reignited an old fire.

"I was doing well but in the middle there was a problem in my contract. That really upset me because I felt that this business was something where I could be cheated at anytime. So I wanted to do something on my own."

"Boxing is the easier work. Here you only have to find a way to stay in the ring for nine minutes. Out there you have to be on the job and run around for nine hours or more."

Without consulting his father, Desai decided to board a train to Bhiwani, which he had recalled from his sole experience at the senior nationals in 2009, was the hub of boxing in India.

"I just packed up and took a train to Bhiwani. I didn't even know where exactly it was but I knew I had to go there."

He then had to convince all the coaches of his seriousness.

"I was 24 years old when I started to box again. A lot of people wondered how serious I was. I was already married. I had been enjoying married life but I thought saala yeh nahi chalegi (this will not do)" he says.

Desai took part in the 2016 National Championships where he was knocked out in the first round, but that did little to dampen his enthusiasm.

"I was physically fit but I didn't have the experience. But since then I've only got better. I train alongside boxers who have competed at the World Championships and the Olympics. I eat along with them. I improve every day."

Now that he finally has a medal at the championships, his self belief is justified. Having worried about being cheated in business, he now worries about the same happening via unscrupulous judges at the boxing ring. It helps that he has won all three of his bouts by stoppage at Baddi.

While he is optimistic of improving the colour of his medal on Wednesday, Desai is also looking forward to becoming the first Gujarati boxer in the national camp by virtue of his confirmed bronze: "That will be a new experience as well."

Having beaten boxers from other boxing backwaters for now, the prospect of competing with high quality opponents is a challenging one. But he will gladly take it up over the prospect of returning to the business world despite his success in the latter.

"I've handed over the business to my brother now. There's no way I want to go back to business. I'm scared of it now. Boxing is the easier work. Here you only have to find a way to stay in the ring for nine minutes. Out there you have to be on the job and run around for nine hours or more. And you have to play with people's mind. You have to keep track of who you have supplied with what. Whose payment is left. It's easier to keep track of what you have to do in boxing."

Desai will admit though that he has applied lessons from boxing into business, and vice versa.

"I've learned to be more calculated in the ring when I fight and of course I've had to sometimes use some of my boxing lessons when I've to get payments from vendors who didn't pay up or ran away," he jokes.

Perhaps eventually he will have to return to that old world, but for now Desai is happy to go along for the ride.

"I've had to mix boxing and business. But khud ka rasta dhund raha hu (I'm finding my own road)."