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Dangal : The Muddy Affairs

Dangal :  The Muddy Affairs
As 20-year-old Shahrukh packed his small bag early on Sunday morning, he made sure to not miss his red langot in a hurry. Knowing that he cannot afford to waste money on train reservation Shahrukh hurriedly boards a general coach and starts off to the Capital, saving the money for his diet. On reaching Delhi in the afternoon, he heads straight to the Jama Masjid Meena bazaar ittehaadi (communal harmony) akhada. His ears get immense pleasure listening to the beats of dhol outside the akhada attracting the wrestling lovers to the dangal
(the wrestling ground).

An old man sitting at the gate of the akhada signals the start of the wrestling in which wrestlers from Delhi and adjoining states come to take part. As Shahrukh gets behind the tree to undress, his trained reflexes tie the langot while his eyes carefully scan the other wrestlers who are just settling down. From among the other participants he searches for a suitable opponent for himself. The wrestlers are not weighed on a machine but they do challenge their rival by offering to shake hands with them. If the opponent finds the wrestler matching his weight he might decide to shake hands with him accepting the challenge.

A young man puffs up the akhada mud with a shovel getting the place ready for the match. While the onlookers quickly settles on the ground, some who know the best positions grab good spots to get a better view.

"The crowd would swell in an hour. I don't want to miss the best view from the back so I've come early. I am excited to know that today some wrestlers from Mewat and Meerut are coming," says Shamshad, who had come from Delhi Gate, moving hurriedly towards the akhada to occupy some room on the green grass. The referee Raju Pahalwan and Abid then inspect the wrestling ground by checking the surface with their bare feet moving their legs like a pendulum. When the referees feel it clear for the wrestlers to step in, they whistle.

Hearing the whistle Sharukh runs to the referee just like some others from different directions. Raju Pahalwan holds the hand of Shahrukh and calls for a match. Two medium built wrestlers offer their hands to Shahrukh. After a careful glance, Shahrukh accepts one. As the challenge is accepted with a handshake the crowd that had encircled the akahada whistles and claps cheering for the two wrestlers.

As Shahrukh and his opponent lock hands and heads with each other a group of former wrestlers in their late 50s get seated on the only iron bench laid out, carefully observing the moves of the two wrestlers. 42-year-old Abid has been refereeing the Jama Masjid Meena Bazaar ittehadi akhada for many years now. He feels that the recent blockbusters like Dangal and Sultan has a great role to play in rejuvenating the wrestling in India.

"Films were earlier responsible for the downfall in wrestling as Akshay Kumar and Sunil Shetty in the '90s diverted youngsters from wrestling to gymnasiums. Now Salman and Amir in their movies Sultan and Dangal brought back the young blood to the wrestling grounds," says Abid, pausing for a second to clap and shout for a good move Shahrukh applied on his opponent. "Shabash beta," he praised at the pitch of his voice as it dissolved in several other voices in the arena. The crowd cheered the two wrestlers as the other participants changing behind the crowd try to stand on their toes to have a glimpse of whose move made the crowd alive.

Three young kids rub mud on their bare shoulders as they prepare to wrestle. 13-year-old Asif Ali Sheikh from Badapur in Southeast Delhi was preparing to wrestle in order to gain the title of Nausherwa (winning nine consecutive matches in a row on the same akhada). "Main Shusil ji ki khushti dekhta hu, unse seekhne ki koshish karta hu," says Asif (I watch Sushil ji's wrestling, and try to learn his moves). When asked whether he liked any recent movie on wrestling, he replied after a pause, "Dangal acchi thi" (Dangal was good).

Standing by his side was Abhishek, a 19-year-old from Guru Hanuman Akahda who has been coming to the Jama Masjid dangal since he was 14. "My father is associated with a private firm. If at all wrestling could give me money I can do good. It's hard to maintain the diet of a wrestler if you don't come from a rich family," says Abhishek jumping on his toes to warm up before the match.

Just then the crowd stood up clapping and cheering as Shahrukh defeated his opponent. The referee raised his hand as the young boy from Bareily accepted the wishes bowing his head. Soon, some people in the crowd stretched out their hands to offer him some money and Shahrukh was seen collecting the Rs 100, 50 and 10 notes from the crowd. This is a form of local encouragement that budding wrestlers achieve from the crowd.

Raju Pahalwan recalls the history of this dangal, "The dangal was earlier organised in front of the Red Fort. In 1947 it was shifted to the back side of Jama Masjid in Urdu park and from 1975 onward it is being organised at the Jama Masjid Meena bazaar. It is called ittehaadi dangal meaning communal harmony."

72-year-old Arifeen Pahalwan says, "This dangal has seen some great Indian wrestlers. You would be surprised to know that Sanjay Pahalwan, Sushil Kumar's father-in-law Satpal Pahalwan, Subash Pahalwan and Bicchoo Pahalwan are some of the names that came here." Arifeen himself has been a great wrestler and has travelled across India.

Saleem, hailing from Mewat, is a big fan of Abdusalam – the Russian wrestler. He feels diet is of utmost importance. "I take 2 litres of milk and two kgs of ghee everyday but due to financial constraints not every wrestler can afford this diet. The government should also focus on young wrestlers, not just those wrestling in sports complexes."
Abdul Ahad, a 16-year-old from Daryaganj has been wrestling for two years now. He flaunts his white T-shirt which he says was given to him by wrestler Sushil Kumar.

On being asked who does he like more Yogeshwar Dutt or Sushil kumar, he replies, "Yogeshji is more attacking. I like him. Yohesh ji feetle acha maarte hain. Sushil ji gatta bada pyara nikaalte hain." (Yogesh is good at feetle and Sushil Kumar is good at gattha). On being asked which one he liked more – Dangal or Sultan – he gave a firm answer. "I am a fan of Salman Khan but I think Dangal was more good on script," he said with a grin. The mood of these young kids clearly show how these films filled enthusiasm in them.

As the referee calls wrestlers with a whistle, Arif reaches there as runs fast as he can. He knows the importance of this match, winning this would mean that he gets the honour of Nausherwa. The kushti begins as the old man with the dhol stands at the periphery of the akahada beating it with the two sticks. As the crowd watch the two boys wrestle in the twilight, one could hear the azaan come from Jama Masjid.

Soon, the crowd stood up with a thunderous applause as Arif grounded his opponent. The referee confirmed his win after checking traces of mud on back of both the shoulders of Arif's opponent. Slowly he raised his hand and Arif was announced a new Nausherwa.
Zafar Abbas

Zafar Abbas

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