A TEAM of nearly 100 boys stand in the 30 x 40 feet square, the mud wet from the day’s drizzles and the two bulbs atop a bamboo pole just about illuminating the square. It is 11 pm, but nobody’s going home, including the onlookers. Chanting names of deities, the boys begin to stand on top of one another’s shoulders, clambering over knees, arms. Many postures are shaky, like many legs in the pyramid, but they keep standing anyway. Within minutes, a pyramid of eight tiers is formed and the crowd rejoices. Suddenly, one youth slips and the human tower collapses. Bleeding and hurt, the members comfort one another as coach David Fernandes screams, “Nobody is going home till the pyramid has been formed correctly. I do not want any shakes, any diversion or carelessness. Back on your feet now.”
This is Shiv Tekadi, a colony of slums near Majas bus depot in Jogeshwari in the western suburbs of the city.
These young men have made it to the Limca Book of Records in 2009, with a pyramid of nine tiers. They later made it to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012, having formed a 43.79-feet tall pyramid. The Jawan Govind Pathak is the oldest group among those who contest in the Dahi Handi pyramids. Formed in the early 2000s by Sandip Dhavale, these youngsters want to be the finest Dahi Handi Pathak or team in the city.
Yogesh Surve, one of the team members, says, “They won’t stop trying till the posture is right. We are packing up early but a few days ahead of the festival, the practice goes on till 2 am. No one rests,” he says.
These “athletes” have not been trained at a coaching centre or with the finest infrastructure. But what makes them succeed, they say, is the sense of brotherhood among those who love the sport of forming human pyramids.
The past one year, they feel, was dull with court-imposed restrictions on height, something they thought snatched the “thrill” from the game. In the first year since the implementation of the new rules in 2016, many teams raised black flags, formed a horizontal ‘sleeping’ pyramid on the road and more, while some simply skipped participating.
“Last year, Dahi Handi was as never before. We were disheartened while playing the game. What a shame it could have meant when a nationally loved sport was played under the watchful eye of the police,” said Dhavale, coach and one of the founders of Jai Govind Dahi Handi Pathak.
For 17 years, the group has been among the best of the 2,000 such groups in the city, and they pride themselves on safety standards. “The human pyramid festival in Spain, Concours de Castel, is their achievement. They visit our city, see our game and cherish us for the hard work we put in. Our tradition is older than theirs but we remained chained,” Yogesh said.
The group has as many as 900 players from different corners of the city. They say the festival is not about winning the trophy but retaining their credibility as being the best team at a sport. Policemen also do the rounds of the practice venue to check on the progress. “This is our area of inspection. The practice has never caused any inconvenience to anyone. Though minors are involved, we have never seen any case of major injuries to any person playing,” said senior police inspector A Kharat. There are also regular spectators for the practice sessions, residents of Shiv Tekadi, including women players of the sport.
As the practice continues, Prapti Desai, 11, rushes to find her place in the group. “I help during practice sessions. I feel sad I cannot play in the final game though I can get on the top level,” Desai said.
The age restriction for participation in the festival this year is 14 years.
The team includes members from various backgrounds. Some are employed in government or private jobs, others work odd jobs. Aged between 14 years and 45 years, the members also play various other sports.
“Our boys are asked to trains themselves in a gym. They not only need to be fit but must also control their diet to play the game. It is a strict regime that needs to be adhered to,” said Mayur Porlekar, secretary of their association. The group members say they also carry helmets and follow other safety-related precautions.
As they continue to practise, the pyramid appears perfect on the fifth try, before another collapse. “This is common. What we try to do in these sessions is not fall too hard on one another. We bleed here and there but it is all fine. At the end of the day, the practice must go on,” says Nitin Gaje, who takes the topmost position in the pyramids.