Last month, when Deepak Punia returned empty-handed from the junior world championships in France, his father didn’t give him his favourite drink — cow’s milk.
An upset Punia promised his father that he will not return empty-handed from the cadet world championships that was to take place in Tbilisi in the second week of September. “I wanted cow’s milk. I love cow’s milk because it gives me the strength to wrestle. I told my father that I won’t return empty handed and he has to give me the milk,” Punia says. So when Deepak returns to India on Monday, he will have the milk he asked for as he is not returning empty handed. The Haryana wrestler won gold medal in the 85kg category and became only the third cadet world champion from India after the tournament was restarted in 2011.
The 17-year-old defeated wrestlers from Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, USA and Turkey to be ultimately crowned as the world champion. It is the first time that an Indian has won a world title in the heavyweight category at this level. “I just wanted to focus on the final bout. When I won against USA in semis, I knew I can do it,” he says. Punia and Jacob Warner of USA were tied 4-4 in the semi-final bout but the Indian prevailed on the basis of criteria and thus assured India a medal.
Punia, son of a milkman, has been bringing home medals since the age of seven.
“I used to sell milk but have stopped for last one year because my son went to Delhi to train and I needed to take care of my fields. But I still make sure he gets the cow’s milk. He has won a lot. I don’t understand everything but he shows me the medal and I say sabash. He has brought many this year,” his father Subhash says.
At the junior world championships this year, Punia lost in the pre-quarters and failed to win a medal but before that he had won gold in the junior Asian championships and silver at the cadet Asian championships the same year.
But the journey has not been easy. After training at the village akhada for more than 10 years, Punia realised he needed better facilities to win medals at world events. Therefore, he decided to moved out of the village akhada in 2015 to train at the renowned Chhatarsaal stadium in New Delhi under the guidance of Satpal Singh, the coach of Sushil Kumar. But he didn’t. There was a problem. “I always wanted to be a wrestler in the heavyweight category and for that I needed to follow a particular diet and drink a lot of milk. The diet was not a problem but getting cow’s milk was a problem in Delhi as only buffalo milk was available. Therefore I came back home,” Punia says.
Before he boarded the flight to Tblisi, Punia didn’t forget to call his father and remind him of the promise. His father, who instantly recalled the promise, just said okay.
“I don’t understand what he has won. His akhada coach called to tell me the news. Once he returns and see that he has actually won something, then I will give him the milk,” says Punia’s father.