City Secret – Sanjay Akhara, Majnu ka Tila
A special camp for wrestlers.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s Adidas meets the akhara, dumbbell meets the dand-baithak and rugby meets Rohtak.
The other day I stumbled into a settlement of wrestlers-in-training, just off the Ring Road, just next to Majnu ka Tila gurdwara. If you aspire to be a champion wrestler, go, join it. It’s free. You’ll only have to pay for your food bills.
I must add that the timing of my discovery was perfect. It was the week after Delhi wrestler Mr Sushil Kumar won bronze in the Beijing Olympics. But what I saw was beyond belief: around 50 young wrestlers from Sonepat, Bhiwani, Jhajjar, Hisar, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Rohtak and other off-the-map towns were warming up by playing… not wrestling but rugby.
“We call it ten-touch and it’s less violent than the regular rugby,” said coach Jagbir Singh Dahiya.
Girls would have loved the sight. One team played bare-bodied, all tight muscles and big chests. But this ain’t no rugby stadium, and sorry, no girls allowed here. This is serious kushti. The resident boys of Sanjay Akhara, run by Arjuna awardee Mr Sanjay Pehelwan, eat, drink, dream, talk and fight kushti. Ok, Bollywood siren Katrina Kaif is a distraction, but shhh…
The akhara is within the city limits and yet it’s like jangal mein mangal reminding you of the summer camp of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Nestled within a grove of trees, the sound of traffic becomes a distant hum. But the forest-like quiet doesn’t stop the boys from waking at four each morning and carrying on with the discipline: running 7 km, playing ‘ten-touch’, practising kushti, drinking doodh badaam, cooking, eating, sleeping away the afternoon… and then more kushti, food, TV (sports channels and movies) and good night — and then again good morning.
This 24-hour cycle needs extraordinary energy. “We daily consume 150 litres of milk,” said Mr Dahiya. Sixty kilos of badaam disappear each month. A room I looked into smelled of ghee.
All the doodh-ghee is converted into kinetic energy that you see bursting daily into dhaak dhaon and hathi chinghar moves on the dangal (mud pit). The lumps of earth there are soft and cool. The boys (by now they have taken off their remaining clothes except a langot) rub the soil on each other, well-oiled bodies for a less-slippery grip.
The game is then on.
To win, you have to make your rival fall flat on his back. The move is called patki. You have to twist him, pick him, fling him, topple him, shove him, ram into him or lay on him till he’s exhausted. Tough, but fun.
Khatron ka khiladi Akshay Kumar has many fans here but it’s Sushil Kumar who is the new hero. The 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games are near and everyone’s dreaming of doing a Sushil, whose railway job is as attractive as his medal. “If we perform well, we may get a sarkari job,” said Mr Devender, a one-time roomie of Sushil.
Most folks here have supportive families behind them. But there are a few who came here against the wishes of their parents. “Kushti is like a junoon (obsession),” says a wrestler on a bench, his leg fractured.
“What a picnicky life this is,” I declare to Mr Pratap Pehelwan, the akhara’s bulky ustadji. He immediately took me inside a camp. Shared by three people, it had a rickety bed, unclean sheet, leaking roof. “This is what we have,” he said. “Sushil Kumar also had to live in one such place.” That’s a killjoy.
Ph 93124-54-923 (Mr Pratab Pehelwan)
Rugby comes to Delhi
Jangal mein mangal
Are you ready?
Come on, boys
You’ve got fracture, bro
Sons of the soil