The IPL-isation of the mill workers’ sport is sure to catch more eyeballs but as Shivani Naik finds out, kabaddi had never disappeared from Mumbai’s bloodline.
The stubborn ink mark on the back of the hand wouldn’t always wear off the next morning. A few wary wives — their own curiosity piqued — would scrunch up their noses, wondering if it came from the latest lavani-tamasha troupe in town, camped at Mumbai’s Girgaum.
Mostly, though, such fears were unfounded.
The men would simply have returned from a night of kabaddi and their revelries would stretch beyond dusk. They would discuss the kaichi (scissor-hold catch), baithi (toe-touch) and mule-kick deceptions of the day’s play, to rewinding how the game had panned out, even as dinner was gobbled up later at home.
Much before Mumbai’s music and dance scene morphed into nightclubs and discotheques frequented by men oozing cologne and women twirling in little black dresses, the ubiquitous hand-stamp was a gateway to another form of robust entertainment, during the 60s and 70s, in the chawls where mill-men and their brood resided.
The blue-smudge branding on the hand wasn’t meant to be an exclusive passage into the cool confines of some groovy nightclub. It was a conveniently-budgeted stag entry-pass into the maidaans to watch kabaddi players do an athletic ring dance in mud pits, while avoiding the cost of printing tickets, and almost always using the same rubber stamps that were brought out to confirm donations for Ganpati mandals once a year.
Kabaddi has been slated for a makeover through the recently-announced Pro Kabaddi league promoted by Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group — albeit in his individual capacity — with some suave involvement of the country’s leading corporate houses, an ad-whiz and an uber high-end TV broadcaster. A financial windfall for the players this inter-city league may well be, but calling it a massive popular revival might be a touch misleading, given how the sport has never really disappeared from this busy city’s bloodline, even displaying some mind-boggling self-preservation through the years.
It resides along Mumbai’s arterial Central Line — Sewri, Wadala, Parel, Dadar up to Thane — and though the mills have disbanded, kabaddi continues to throb in nooks and crannies where large crowds still assemble under the long shadows of the very skyscrapers that have replaced rundown factories; the desi game almost defying the spectacularly shocking changes to the horizon.
Sons of soil
The Mahindra Group, itself, has sheltered this indigenous sport in its wake — kabaddi surviving at least three waves of budget cuts brought on by restructuring and recession. While the cricket and hockey teams were sent packing in the mid-90s, and football, despite having a successful side in the I-League, couldn’t fight back a further purse-tightening a few years ago, continued…