“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!”Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
by Piyush Nagpal
"Some of my family members used to enter the akhada to stay physically fit while some had dangals (competitions) and medals in their mind" says 23 year old Gopal Thakur, a second generation wrestler and a medal dreamer from his family. For a medal deficient country, the breaking news of an olympic medal is music to our news feed. Wrestling (pehlwani) in India has seen a number of aspects, from kushti (traditional mud wrestling) in the akhara to commercially successful pro wrestling in the ring, the realm of prospects and opportunities is expanding for young wrestlers across India. Gopal has tried mastering all but settling on the olympic style mat wrestling he admits "competition kaafi hai, insaan ko vo karna chahiy to jo vo kar sake" (Amidst the competition it is better to stick to what one can do best). With the carefully crafted commercial model of wrestling and kabaddi leagues and a sudden recent love for wrestling in Bollywood, the akhara is luring more eyes than ever in terms of both wrestlers as well as admirers. However, it is not all easy pickings for this wrestler. He explains his likes and dislikes as follows, "My coach is my hero, after Hanuman (popular character from the Hindu mythology and religion). My mat is my passion. My college is my torment. My shop is my livelihood and duty." His mat is his solace, Akhara his peace. The laboured ease of the akhara is what wakes him, the pearly sweat glides his skin during the morning practice session, the flame in his muscles starts flickering once he leaves for college. The flame undeterred yet low on fuel strives to fight through the monotony of a small old Delhi concrete shack. "I sell what I don't consume, tobacco, 5 hours a day to people I don't know" says a perplexed Gopal standing in a small shack worth a livelihood of six people. The flame lowers and is about to wipe off. From mud to concrete is a transition of a burning soul of desire into a meaningless body of Sisyphus. "Medals shall be won, gradually, but definitely" he says and signs off to go back to roll another rock uphill. Gopal wrestles at Master Chandgiram Akhara, one of the major Akharas of Delhi with facilities freely available to both male and female wrestlers.