June 30, 2010 1:02:57 am
Underneth the jamun tree inside the Chandgi Ram ka Akhada in Civil Lines,is a mounted photograph of the man in all his glory. The photograph was taken after he won the Mahabharat Kesari title,the ultimate triumph in traditional Indian wrestling. The six-footer is posing on one knee with a mace,the weapon of Lord Hanuman,balanced effortlessly on his shoulder. Chandgi Ram,the legendary wrestler and coach who died early Tuesday morning of a heart attack at the age of 72,stares out past the mourners straight into the training room of his akhada.
While the menfolk have left for the cremation at Nigamboddh Ghat,the women are silent. Many of them are wrestlers themselves. Chandgi Ram not only coached,he housed and fed a number of chelas (students),including 25 women and until a couple of years back would organise dangals for them at the Kashmere Gate maidan. Kamlesh,the oldest amongst them at 26,says: Guru hi nahin,voh pitah samaan the (He was not just a teacher,but a father figure). Two girls walk in carrying their kit bags,back from a tournament in Nainital. One of them,Pushpa,is overcome with emotion and sits silent in front of an old photograph of her Guru locked in combat with Dara Singh.
After his cremation,the men slowly start filing in. Broken noses,cauliflowered ears and bull necks abound. One of them walks in swinging a fractured leg. The muscle belies the fact that there is serious wrestling talent present. Guruji,as Chandgi Ram was known,coached seven Arjuna awardees,all of whom are present. Sushil Kumar,the Olympic bronze medalist,too comes to pay his respects.
The akhada itself is in a serious state of disrepair. The roof of its training area,a large hall-like structure is covered in brambles and has cracks along its unplastered walls. Inside,the equipment is rudimentary a training mat and a few sparring bodyforms.
The heart of his akhada,a mud pit where students still sweat it out,is an anachronistic relic in an age of gym machines that target each muscle specifically. If the akhada is rudimentary,the tools are spartan. Training has been put off for the day. The pit is empty,and the students restless. But they are ready to get back on. Jagdish Kaliraman,Changdi Rams eldest son,says: My father used to say that God has sent him for one purpose,wrestling. One of his students was forced to come for training a day after his wedding. Training will continue as usual,that is his legacy.
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