Akharas hidden in plain view of Gurgaon: Wrestling still in shadows!
There are few instances when entire India's attention is turned towards wrestling, all at the same time. Inspite of not being a sports journalist, even me, who is almost dispassionate about sports, cannot but take notice of wrestlers after the Commonwealth games. They not only are a part of an interesting game, but their lives also shape up around the game and is a whole world different from what the average Indians know it to be.
People, who are reading further should know that I am not an expert in the field and will commit mistakes, but what fascinated me were the Akharas hidden in plain view in Gurgaon and how they govern the lives of many Sushil Kumars and Yogeshwar Dutts of Haryana.
The Commonwealth games concluded on Saturday and India came home with 64 medals, out of which 13 (5 gold, 6 silver and 2 bronze) were won by wrestlers. This is the time when wrestlers get all the notice, especially in Indian media. However, we forget to take stalk of the place where these people start from and how they grow to be stalwarts of the game. The Akharas in Haryana are the breeding ground for these athletes and they all are groomed from the tender age of 8-9 years.
Akharas in Gurgaon- The whole of Haryana can boasts of Akharas and there are many, which helps children to grow into popular wrestlers. Akharas, is a sanskrit word, which means a place of practice with facilities for board, lodging and education for a particular sect or order. It can either refer to a training hall used by martial artists or a monastery for religious renunciates. (Wikipedia).
In Gurgaon there are Akharas in Tripari, Sohna, Nathupur, Devi Lal Stadium, Daultabad, Badshahpur and Farukhnagar. According to Guru Haripal Akhara's owner, Haripalji, '' Akharas these days do not have boarding facility, but students can sleep over if there is some need. Also I have 35-40 students in my Akharas, who comes for practice each day. They get a coach, their diet and practice for 6 days a week with Tuesdays being their day off.
Culture of wrestling and its future in Gurgaon- Former batch-mate of Sushil Kumar and presently a coach, Manoj Kumar, who hails from Delhi and travels to Gurgaon each day to train around 40 athletes gives us some insight into the game. Having played the game for 14 years and still involved with it, he is completely satisfied with the way wrestling is going on in Haryana and in India. He feels that the Akharas are the main cog in the whole wrestling machinery, without which the game would not be able to move one inch.
''My son is 3 years of age and from now on, I am dreaming of him becoming the world champion in wrestling. A wrestler needs 12 years to shape up and so atleast for the next 20 years I am sure that wrestling has a very bright future. Commonwealth is recent development, but the change in the environment happened when Sushil Kumar won us a bronze medal in 2008 Olympics. He won this medal after 52 years of KD Jadhav winning a medal in wrestling. It was like he rescued wrestling from the downfall that it was heading off to.''
One day in the life of a wrestler- Talking about the tough life of a wrestler and that they need constant grooming Manoj gave us some of the key activities a wrestler needs to do each day. '' A wrestler's day starts from 4 in the morning. By 5 they are in the field doing warm ups and jogging for 1 hour followed by 1 hour of practice. Normally each student has to face 4 other students in a bout (fight). After which, they take their diet and rest from 10 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon.''
When asked about students, who goes to school, coach Manoj says, '' wrestling is a full time profession. There are students who goes to both government and private schools, but we take permissions from their schools for flexible timings as their main motive is to get as much practice as they can. Even a day's rest sets a wrestler 5 days back in his profession. Thus resting is not an option. Then in the evening, from 5- 8 pm they again practice new techniques and their days conclude.''
Wrestler's diet- Normally, these people have to take good food. Guru Haripal said, '' Rajma, Lassi are important parts of their diet. Along with that badam or nuts form an important part, as each wrestler, according to their age take a fixed amount of nuts as a part of their diet with milk. Even milk is taken in appropriate amount, as a wrestler's body needs everything- fat, carbohydrate, protein and Calcium.
Facilities imperative from the government to Akharas and wrestlers to promote the game- More than the government, Manoj Kumar feels that the media should help the wrestlers to reach a better place. Manoj Kumar puts it well, '' Cricket is in our genes as we watch it so much that it is ingrained in our thoughts. Everyday, some match or the other is shown in television. We have similar number of matches in wrestling and I request our media friends to go there and cover it so that maximum exposure is given to the sport and people can understand that wrestling is more than WWE. Indian wrestling is very interesting, but due to lack of opportunities, it is still in the shadows.''