More Sushil Kumars will spring from soil of Delhi (Special)

August 21st, 2008 - 7:09 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 21 (IANS) Sushil Kumar’s bronze medal in the Beijing Olympic Games has given the country’s wrestling fans reason to celebrate. Ages ago, Helsinki 1952 to be more precise, a Maharashtrian called Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav had done something similar in the Olympics. Not that Indian wrestling had gone totally rewardless in this 56-year hiatus. Bishambar Singh’s silver medal in the world championships in New Delhi in 1965 was no small achievement. But it was not an Olympic medal. Nothing like an Olympic medal!Delhi has a special reason to celebrate. Sushil is a pucca Dilliwala, born and brought up in the village of Bapraula in the north-west of the sprawling metropolis. Like other Dilliwalas, chief minister Sheila Dikshit was also proud of him. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Haryana chief minister, lost little time in announcing handsome cash awards to his state’s Olympic quarter-finalist boxers. Not to be left behind, Dikshit too decided to reward Sushil with Rs.5 million. She also gave an out-of-turn promotion to Satpal, deputy director, sports, in her government’s education department, who coached Sushil in his Chhatrasal Stadium centre.

Sushil’s village is not far from Najafgarh where Test opening batsman Virender Sehwag was raised. Cricket has been described as a religion of Indians, city-bred Indians specially. But go a little deeper into rural territory and you are likely to disagree with that view. Wrestling is what our village folk are more interested in. “Yeh kirket shirket kya hota hai?” you are likely to be told. (What’s this cricket?)

Rural folk have a deep-rooted attachment to their village. Which is also true of Sushil Kumar. A man of few words, Sushil remembered to thank his parents and coaches and the entire village of Bapraula who urged him to go get the medal for the country. “Sushil had the support of everybody in Bapraula, from nine to ninety years old, when he stepped on to the mat in China,” as the boy’s father Diwan Singh, a driver with Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, put it.

But, to tell the truth, wrestling also has a considerable following in the crowded city areas. It is in the city’s overcrowded Subzi Mandi area that the late Guru Hanuman ran his mud “akhara” (wrestling ring). You can often find wrestling competitions being held in the grounds separating the thickly populated Jama Masjid area and the Red Fort. To spontaneous exclamations like “Kya dao mara!” (what a move) spectators take a tenner or a hundred-rupee note out of their pocket to be presented to the wrestler.

Delhi was first put on the international wrestling map after the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games when Ved Prakash, barely 16, and Sudesh Kumar, 18, returned with gold medals. There was no television those days. But the two boy wrestlers and their guru Hanuman became household figures thanks to documentaries shown in cinema halls before the feature films.

As the fame of Guru Hanuman’s “vyayamshala” (gym) at Birla Mills spread, parents brought their wards to the wrestling academy. “Please turn the boy into a man,” they would request. Hanuman turned the boys into men if not into actual wrestling champions. It was here that Hanuman trained Satpal, Sushil’s coach and heavyweight champion at the 1982 Asian Games, and numerous other national champions.

“Yahaan ki mitti mein kuch khaas hai,” (There’s something special about the soil here) it was said of Delhi’s wrestling. “Akharas” gave way to modern wrestling mats as the sport modernised. But the old tradition that makes the Dilliwala proud continues. The Dilliwala will hope more Sushil Kumars will spring from the soil of Dilli in the years to come and win medals for the country, as the residents of Bapraula urged.

(K. Datta is a veteran sports journalist. He can be contacted at

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