They have fire in their belly

Orphans are trained in Mallkhamb

They have fire in their belly
Fate Fighters perform stage shows to raise funds

His childhood desire was to showcase his talent as an actor. Gyana Ranjan Mohanty can pursue his career in electronics as he has diploma in that subject. But the 30-year-old, based in the Odisha temple town Puri, is currently involved in a completely different vocation--promoting Mallkhamb, an ancient martial art form, among boys and girls, particularly orphans and those belonging to economically weaker sections of society.

“My aim is to train more children, particularly orphans and those belonging to weaker sections, in Mallkhamb which not only keeps mind and body fit but also helps a human being to remain free from diseases,”  Mohanty told Deccan Herald at his training centre in Puri.

Many akhadas, a kind of gymnasium where the youths frequently visit to do different kinds of exercises and other physical activities like wrestling to remain fit, in Puri have on display the khambs or the oiled wooden poles that are used for Mallkhamb. Mohanty first came to know about the ancient martial form while gathering knowledge about these khambs.    

According to him, Mallkhamb has its roots in Maharashtra and it is not clear as to how and when Odiyas started practising it.

“Old timers say it had come nearly 2000 years ago. However, over the years it lost its charm here,” Mohanty said. The art form continues to be very popular in Maharashtra even today.

In fact, it was a study tour to Maharashtra while doing his diploma course in 2005 which triggered his interest in the ancient martial art form. “During the tour, at many places I saw young men and even minor children practising Mallkhamb. Their performance was mesmerising. I was so thrilled that I decided to revive it in my home town,” he said.

He and some of his friends began practising the art during their spare time. However, he met with a freak accident in 2010 while doing a motorcycle stunt with his friends. The mishap broke one of his collar bones. And that brought his Mallkhamb journey to a grinding halt.

Love for martial art

Nevertheless, his love for the martial art continued and he decided to promote it in a
different manner -- by forming a group and training children in Mallkhamb. Now his group has over 30 members who not only charm the visitors by their thrilling performances on the Puri beach where they practise at regular intervals but also audiences across the country through their stage shows. They also participate in TV programmes both on the national and regional channels.

Mohanty has christened his group as “The Fate Fighters”. “Majority of my team members have been fighting with their fates. They are mostly orphans and belong to economically weaker section of society. Hence, when I formed my organisation I decided to name it Fate Fighters,” he said.

It was a chance meeting with Karim Khan, an orphan, in  Bhubaneswar two years back that encouraged him to introduce boys and girls like him (Khan) to Mallkhamb. His team at present has two girls.    

 “When I met Karim at a school function I found him extremely keen to learn Mallkhamb. He already knew that I was promoting the martial art. Through him I met many orphans who were keen to learn the art. I brought them and accommodated them in orphanages. Some of them are staying at my centre. All of them are doing extremely well,” he said.

The Fate Fighters now conducts more than 30 stage shows across the country every year. It was runners up in a TV realty show at the national level and won the title in another reality show conducted by a regional TV channel.

“We conduct the stage shows primarily to run our centre. We also pay the team members who perform on the stage to encourage them,” Mohanty maintained.

He visits orphanages in different districts every year in search of talent and groom them. His team already has a few boys from orphanages from interior districts.  
 
Mohanty is now having a plan to set up a bigger centre in Puri to train more orphans and children from poor families. “We are running our centre from a rented accommodation now. We have already purchased a piece of land here and hope to have our own centre in the next few years,” he said.

He has his own reasons why he encourages orphans and children from poorer section to learn Mallkhamb. According to him, they are tougher than the children belonging to affluent families. “Mallkhamb is a tough art to perform. It needs both mental and physical toughness. In the last few years, I have tried to promote children from economically well-off families and introduce them to the martial art but failed. They will come for training for a few days and then stop primarily because of strenuous and gruelling practice sessions. Orphans and poor boys and girls, put up with rigorous training sessions. Probably, this is because of their condition, which makes them tough,” Mohanty said.  

While Mallkhamb has become his passion, he continues to nurture his childhood dream by acting whenever he gets an opportunity. The episode on the TV reality show that won the Fate Fighters the champions trophy in the regional TV channel was a mixture of Mallkhamb and an emotional social drama in which he played the role of an elderly man.

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