From Delhi’s Chhatrashal stadium, fellow wrestlers watch on TV Sushil Kumar’s semifinal match in London. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Aug. 12: Eyes are shining here brighter than the gold Sushil Kumar did not win.
Here is the akhada at Chhatrashal stadium, on the outskirts of Delhi, where both Sushil and bronze winner Yogeshwar Dutt slipped into a langot and submitted themselves to the rigours of training.
In their teens, they dragged a heavy block of wood by ropes to level the floor — recommended for rock-solid shoulders and oak-like thighs — and climbed up a rope dangling from a tree. Sushil shared a dormitory (No. 4) with 15 others and Yogeshwar with 10.
Now both are sharing something far more priceless than a gold medal with the 165 boys of the akhada: an ability to believe in themselves.
Sajan Kumar, 17, who is headed to wrestling championships in Azerbaijan later this month, says he could not have hoped for a better adrenaline booster than the twin triumphs of their alumni.
“Both are my role models and I want to be like them,” said Sajan, his voice drowning in thunderous applause from fellow wrestlers.
Fascinated by the stories of another wrestling student, Sajan had fled his village in Haryana five years ago to chase his dream. His family is now reconciled to his goal. “I want to represent India in the Olympics like Sushil sir. He has given us hope. We have reached the akhada fighting all odds and now have only one mission in life — to make India proud,” Sajan said.
A party which got going at the stadium late on Saturday night after Yogeshwar won the bronze, was continuing late tonight after Sushil’s silver victory.
“He was so close to the gold medal butů,” said Anil Mann, one of the coaches who had trained both Sushil and Yogeshwar at the akhada.
In the morning, the budding wrestlers had convened a prayer session for Sushil. Such was the excitement that most skipped lunch and waited for the match to start. All sat in front of an LCD TV recently installed inside the wrestling centre at the stadium. Many broke into a jig as and when Sushil scored a point till the semifinal got over.
In the final bout, the guffaws ebbed and the prayer session resumed. “He made it so close. We are a little sad because he lost in the final. But there is no point in repenting as he has made the country proud by reaching the final. No Indian wrestler has ever done this and this is a great achievement,” said Pradeep, who had helped Sushil train for the Olympics.
At 14, Sushil started training at the Chhatrasal stadium’s akhada, the regimen of which requires sharing a mattress with a fellow wrestler and a dormitory with as many as 15 others.
“During his early training days, he shared a dormitory with 15 others. And he still lives in the same room (No. 4) whenever he is in Delhi. He considers it lucky for him,” Anil said.
“Both of them (Yogeshwar and Sushil) spend most of their time in practising at the stadium and stay there when they are not participating in any event. Akhara is where their heart is,” said Vinod Kumar, another coach.
The craze for wrestling among youngsters in the region has gone up after the success of Sushil in the last Olympics. “Now some youths from other states like UP, Rajasthan and Jharkhand are coming to us for training. Some nurse dreams of representing India. For others, learning the craft will help them earn by fighting in wrestling competitions which are still popular in Delhi and Haryana,” Vinod said.
Anil agreed: “More and more kids from poor families are coming to the akhadas to train after the success of Sushil. We ask the budding wrestlers not to lose focus amid all the adulation.”
Akhilesh, a wrestler from Haryana, is a fine example. “During the training session, Sushil sir taught me and the others some tricks. He is our idol. He encourages us all and asks us to give our heart and soul for wrestling,” he said.
The wrestlers and coaches are planning a big celebration once Sushil and Yogeshwar reach Delhi. “But Sushil sir only loves aloo paratha and nothing else,” chuckled Akhilesh.