A pehlwan's village celebrates his medal

A pehlwan's village celebrates his medal

A pehlwan's village celebrates his medal

Almost every parent here wants Sushil to share his success mantra with their children

He did not refuse permission to the media to mount cameras on his terrace. Soft drinks were served almost immediately. But unlike the rest of the village, this house, opposite the wrestling star’s, is not basking in “Sushil’s glory”.

Randhir Singh’s etiquette, however, would not defy the culture of Baprola village, near Najafgarh. “Some people do not just get along. It has been over 15 years now that we have not spoken as neighbours. But I am glad if Sushil has done well for himself,” says the 58-year-old.

The mood in the rest of the village is still euphoric: Sushil’s victory is theirs too. Sushil Kumar’s gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow has given another reason to the wrestling community to “dream big” – to enter the international championship.

“Sushil has assured me he will personally train my grandson once he is eight years old. He is too frail now to join wrestling. It’s a victory for the village every time he comes back winning,” says Lakshmi Solanki, the wrestler’s relative. A glance at her bedroom and you realise what every family in the village is aiming for: a medal at the Olympics. While one wall sports a life-size poster of her eldest grandson and Sushil, saying “Pravin and Sushil Pahalwan”, the other has a calendar with the “star” posing in front of a tractor.

Almost every parent in the village wants Sushil to share his success mantra with their children. “It is every parent’s dream here that the village produces another Sushil. But tell me how many children are ready to toil like he has? My son dreams to be a pehlwan. But I don’t think he would have Sushil’s level of perseverance,” says Sandeep, 42, a neighbour.

To inspire the next generation, the neighbours have never missed a chance to receive Sushil each time he has returned. “He brings a celebration buzz to the village after each tournament. We are also shown on television every time he returns home after his victory abroad,” says Asha, a distant relative.

A major chunk of the village is well-versed with his routine: weekdays at Chhatrasal Stadium and weekends at his home. “He took a break for two days before he returned to his practice sessions,” says Sushil’s younger brother Amarjeet, his eyes focused on the sports page of a Hindi daily.

“We have had guests coming in throughout the past two days to congratulate bhaiya. Dad has finally been able to catch on some sleep,” he adds, pointing towards Diwan Singh fast asleep on the divan. This time the entire family was with Sushil in Glasgow to share “the moment of pride”.

“We were sure that he would win the gold and did not want to miss the moment. All of us, including bhaiya’s seven-month-old twins, accompanied him on the trip,” says the 29-year-old. What helped Sushil succeed is his steady focus on the sport.

“He was clear in his head that wrestling is his area of expertise since he was 10 years old. And we as a family want to support him in every way possible. I like to personally handle his diet and schedule. He worked hard to win gold in the 74 kg men’s freestyle this time,” says Amarjeet, who usually accompanies his elder brother to the practice sessions.

“He practises for four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening every day. You must be aware he was the most searched athlete during the Commonwealth,” he adds.

So what is it that helps the family remain rooted to their humble roots? “The star himself has helped us remain grounded. It is incredible how he has handled fame. He has not forgotten how our father struggled to provide him with the best diet as he turned to wrestling,” says Amarjeet.

Young girls, however, are not as swayed by Sushil’s success as boys are. Most of them still do not name wrestling as their first career choice. “Why would I want to be a wrestler?” says a bewildered 10-year-old girl.

Aspiring wrestlers have to first hone their skills in the lone arena in the village. The poorly maintained arena is the “first training ground”, say locals. Every day Sushil’s cousin Sandeep who inspired the star to take up wrestling teaches a batch of seven students “the tricks of the trade”.

“The training is given in two shifts. Sandeepji trains these kids for free. He chooses from among these kids who all are fit to be sent to Chhatrasal Stadium. We try hard to maintain this ground with the little resources available,” says the caretaker at the ground.

Locals are however optimistic that more children will be exposed to “fine training” once Sushil takes over the wrestling academy to be built on government land in Haryana. “He aims to start the academy after the 2016 Rio Olympics. We will have several Sushils who will bring fame to our community then,” said a family member.