HARYANA’S MEDAL FAC­TORY

Sushil Ku­mar and Yo­gesh­war Dutt, prod­ucts of the finest fin­ishi Ng school for wrestlers in Haryana’s Ba­hal­garh vil­lage, have in­spired a whole new gen­er­a­tion

India Today - - SPORT - By Asit Jolly

Kushti mein tukke na laga kare hain ( There are no flukes in wrestling)!” Di­wan Singh ex­plodes, in­dig­nant that any­one could ever in­sin­u­ate that his son was a “one- win won­der”. Olympic sil­ver- medal­list Sushil Ku­mar’s fa­ther, a driver with Delhi’s Ma­hana­gar Tele­phone Nigam Lim­ited, is thrilled about his son’s un­prece­dented tri­umph at the Lon­don Games, but also a lit­tle wist­ful: “My boy was his best. He was within grab­bing dis­tance of the gold medal.”

Sushil, 29, and his In­dia team­mate Yo­gesh­war Dutt, who won the 60 kg freestyle bronze medal in Lon­don, are the big­gest suc­cess sto­ries from the Chaud­hary Devi Lal Sports Cen­tre. The 83- acre Sports Author­ity of In­dia ( SAI) fa­cil­ity— a fin­ish­ing school for wrestlers— in Sonepat’s Ba­hal­garh vil­lage, where In­dia’s best hone their grap­pling skills in gru­elling train­ing sched­ules, has hap­pily been rechris­tened the ‘ Haryanvi Medal Fac­tory’ by lo­cal res­i­dents.

“La­jawab up­lab­dhi hai ( It’s an un­par­al­leled achieve­ment),” says chief coach Anil Khokhar, 35, who has seen a dis­tinct change in younger wrestlers at the cen­tre. From sim­ply striv­ing to par­tic­i­pate in in­ter­na­tional events, he says, “our boys have smelt blood. They all want to chase medals now. Sushil and Yo­gesh­war have shown them it can be done”.

Un­like the fa­ther, who will just not set­tle for sec­ond spot, the sleepy vil­lage of Baprola, on the fringes of Delhi’s north­west­ern bor­der with Haryana, is eu­phoric about their new hero, Sushil Ku­mar, sil­ver medal­list in wrestling at the Lon­don Olympics in the 66 kg freestyle cat­e­gory and a bronze- win­ner in Bei­jing in 2008 in the same event. Says Mukhtiar Singh, a vet­eran of many a past dan­gal ( wrestling tour­na­ment), “This boy has made it all worth­while. His vic­tory makes me feel truly cel­e­brated for the first time in all my 84 years.”

Ev­ery young­ster in Baprola wants to fol­low Sushil into wrestling. Tenyear- old Ri­tik and his three friends walked 2 km from their homes to touch the feet of their cham­pion, just back home from Lon­don, in keep­ing with the old akhara tradition. “Kushti ladoge kya ( Want to wres­tle)?” asks Sushil. All four nod vig­or­ously, swelling vis­i­bly with pride.

Eighty kilo­me­tres to the north along the mon­soon- dam­aged road to Go­hana in Haryana’s Sonepat dis­trict, the res­i­dents of Bhain­swal Kalan stayed up the night to wel­come their own cham­pion. A thou­sand of them thronged Delhi’s Indira Gandhi In­ter­na­tional Air­port to carry the 29- year- old Yo­gesh­war Dutt home on their shoul­ders. A large set­tle­ment of nearly 20,000 res­i­dents, Bhain­swal has a long tradition of send­ing its sons and daugh­ters into teach­ing. But it’s taken the sin­gle- minded de­vo­tion and grit of a wrestler to bring home the ac­co­lades. Pleas­antly tidy de­spite its large pop­u­la­tion of wa­ter buf­faloes, ev­ery street in the vil­lage is paved with con­crete and lined with street lamps that ac­tu­ally work.

“All this is thanks to Yo­gesh­war’s

suc­cesses,” says Ramesh­war Vashishth, 63, a for­mer teacher, re­call­ing how the Bhupin­der Singh Hooda gov­ern­ment first took note of Bhain­swal af­ter the wrestler found a place in the In­dian squad for the Bei­jing Olympics. “Ev­ery man, woman and child here owes this young man a debt of grat­i­tude,” he says. So they all thronged his freshly re­painted house in the cen­tre of the vil­lage just be­fore sun­rise on Au­gust 14 when he drove in. “The first thing he did was to touch the feet of his big­gest fan— our mother,” says his younger brother Mukesh Dutt, 26.

“It rained on the day Yo­gesh­war was born,” says 59- year- old Sushila Devi, fondly hug­ging her favourite child. “I knew then he was meant for great things. You know how they say sapooton ke paer palaane mein hi pe­hchaane jaate hain ( good sons in­di­cate their path in the crib it­self),” she says, quot­ing an old Haryanvi adage. And break­ing a long and wor­ri­some dry spell, there was rain yet again on the morn­ing Yo­gesh­war re­turned from Lon­don, con­vinc­ing all in Bhain­swal that he is their luck­i­est charm.

But be­sides luck, In­dia’s Olympic tri­umphs are rooted in an age- old ru­ral wrestling tradition that ex­tends all the way from the Na­jaf­garh vil­lages in Delhi to Sonepat, Ro­htak, Hisar, Bhi­wani in Haryana and fur­ther across to Bagh­pat, Shamli and Meerut in western Ut­tar Pradesh. It is like a thriv­ing cottage in­dus­try. Ev­ery other vil­lage here has an akhara where older pe­hal­wans ( wrestlers) teach young­sters the finer nu­ances of grap­pling, widely mis­con­strued as a rus­tic sport in­volv­ing brute strength.

“It’s all in the soil and wa­ter that God gifted our peo­ple,” says Suresh Ma­lik aka Bhaddal Pe­hal­wan, who trains 100 young boys at the Bal­raj Akhara, a pri­vate wrestling school in Bhain­swal Kalan set up over three decades ago by Sat­bir Singh, a cele-

THE ‘ HARYANVI MEDAL FAC­TORY’ IS THRIV­ING EVEN MORE WITH LAV­ISH MONE­TARY RE­WARDS FROM THE STATE GOV­ERN­MENT.

brated lo­cal wrestler. Ma­lik starts them young. His youngest pupils like Harsh, Shivam and Ro­hit, all be­tween nine and 13 years, fight hard to stay ahead amid the mus­tard oil and turmeric- in­fused loam that serves as the mat in their akhara.

“Yo­gesh­war and I were about the same age and just 30 kg each when we first be­gan train­ing un­der Ma­ha­bali Sat­pal at Delhi’s Ch­ha­trasal Sta­dium 15 years ago,” Sushil re­calls. His guru’s older brother Chaud­hary Dara Singh first spot­ted the cham­pion, when he won the gold medal at the

Na­tional School Games in Delhi at the age of 12. “I imag­ine that ( the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of the school- time vic­tory) is how it would have felt had I struck gold in Lon­don,” he says a tri­fle rue­fully.

For 17- year- old Praveen Ku­mar, who just re­joined train­ing at the SAI Cen­tre in Ba­hal­garh af­ter six months of re­hab to treat in­juries sus­tained when mis­cre­ants pushed him off a speed­ing train on his way to his vil­lage near Shamli in Jan­uary, Sushil’s sil­ver medal has been in­spi­ra­tional. “Bei­jing was the be­gin­ning but Lon­don has shown the world that you can­not mess with In­di­ans,” says the young­ster who is back to a pun­ish­ing work­out from 4.30 in the morn­ing un­til lights out at 10.30 p. m. ev­ery day.

The re­sults are ev­i­dent. Four­teen of the 15- man squad of ‘ Ba­hal­garh Boys’ that par­tic­i­pated in the Novem­ber 2011 In­ter- SAI Games at Hisar came back with medals. Six of them struck gold at the na­tional sub- ju­nior wrestling tour­na­ment in May 2012.

The ‘ Haryanvi Medal Fac­tory’ is thriv­ing even more with lav­ish mone­tary re­wards from the state gov­ern­ment. Chief Min­is­ter Hooda not only an­nounced a cash award of Rs 1 crore for Dutt but went on to pro­claim sim­i­lar prizes for ev­ery medal­list even re­motely con­nected with his state: Sushil be­cause he speaks Haryanvi and trained here; bad­minton star Saina Ne­hwal and shooter Ga­gan Narang be­cause their fam­i­lies are orig­i­nally from Haryana.

Back in Bhain­swal and Baprola, both cham­pi­ons say they are not ready to hang up their boots. “I will go for gold in Rio 2016,” says Sushil, who is spend­ing most of his 15- day break be­fore the up­com­ing SAF Games Camp in Septem­ber, watch­ing YouTube re- runs of his failed fi­nal bout. “I have to spot where I fal­tered against the Ja­pani ( Tat­suhiro Yone­mitsu),” he says. Rel­a­tively re­laxed, Yo­gesh­war too heads for the com­puter when he gets the chance.

As Di­wan Singh re­it­er­ates, “There are no flukes in wrestling. It is all about keep­ing fit, train­ing hard and per­fect­ing tac­tics to be far su­pe­rior to any­thing your op­po­nent can pos­si­bly come up with.”

( LEFT) SUSHILAT HIS HOME IN BAPROLA; YO­GESH­WAR AT HIS HOME IN BHAIN­SWAL

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