Updated: August 6, 2021 7:19:40 am
As soon as Ravi Dahiya’s fate was sealed in the 57kg freestyle gold medal match, there was stunned silence, looks of disbelief and disappointment on the faces of trainees gathered to witness their ‘brother’s’ final bout inside a jampacked wrestling hall of the Chhatrasal Stadium.
The young wrestlers were almost certain that their fellow trainee, Ravi bhai, would bag the top spot. They couldn’t accept the 4-7 defeat he suffered against Russian Olympic Comittee’s flawless Zaur Uguev. After Deepak Punia’s bronze medal defeat, soon after Ravi’s bout, a few senior wrestlers came into the hall and tried to lift the mood. “Arey, gold nahi toh kya, silver toh hai (Hey guys, if not the gold our Ravi has won a silver and it needs to be celebrated),” a trainee yelled out.
Moments later, the dhols players were in action at the gates of the hall but initially, no one was in a mood to dance. Around 100 kilograms of ghevar (a disc-shaped deep-fried sweet) was ordered apart from countless boxes of rasgullas. A DJ system with massive JBL speakers was also set up in fornt of the dorms.
It was only after the DJ blasted a few Haryanavi songs, including one praising Satpal Singh, a revered figure and the main man of the famed Chattarsal Akhara, that the initial gloom evaporated.
“Come on boys, dancing is also an exercise,” said a coach who pulled out some unique dancing moves which looked more like a training routine. Soon the boys joined in. A box of sweets was playfully snatched away into one of the dorms, before it was locked from inside. Minutes later, a group of youngsters walked out with an empty box and sugar-soaked fingers, indicating everything was normal at the akhara again.
At Ravi’s dorm, his sparring partner and roommate Arun was taking a short break after a series of TV interviews. Ravi’s bed, like that of other trainees, had a folded old blanket on top which doubled up as the mattress. “We are not used to sleeping on cushioned mattresses. This is how we like it,” says Arun, who has been Ravi’s roommate for over seven years now.
“Chhota sa tha woh. (He was really small). In the first four years, he did not even win a national medal. I will be honest. I did not have a lot of expectations from him initially. His parents would often call me and ask me to help him. He was trying hard but just couldn’t progress,” recalls Arun who is several years senior to Ravi.
When Ravi had almost given up on the sport, someone advised a medical check-up. Tests revealed that the youngster had an iron deficiency and no other serious underlying condition hampering his performance.
“Once that was sorted, he never looked back. It amazes me how that young little boy who hardly speaks has reached the biggest stage in the world and won a silver. Did you see him after his semifinal win? No roars, no animated fist pumps, he just walked away humbly. That’s what he is,” says Arun.
Two big tackles that got Ravi Kumar handy points in the men’s 57 kg #wrestling final, enroute to his #Olympic #silver medal! 👏#Tokyo2020 | #UnitedByEmotion | #StrongerTogether | #BestOfTokyo pic.twitter.com/FNCuF4c5B3
— #Tokyo2020 for India (@Tokyo2020hi) August 5, 2021
Softspoken and kind-hearted
Every single trainee, from the junior-most to his peers, at the akhara, has just one thing to say about Ravi, “Bahut seedha admi hain. (He’s a very straightforward person). I call him kharghosh (rabbit) because I think he resembles one and is also very likeable. But on the mat, he’s a cheetah,” says Deepak, Ravi’s close friend.
Deepak admits that the wrestlers at the akhara, including Ravi, have absolutely no social life. “Our first and last interest is wrestling and there’s nothing in between,” he says.
Ravi is not on social media and uses WhatsApp on his phone to only send documents to officials and stay in touch with his family. “There isn’t much free time anyway. He begins practice at 4 in the morning and then takes some rest before resuming the evening session,” Deepak says. For the junior wrestlers, Ravi was the go-to man to take “technical advice”.
“He never loses his cool. We have never seen him yell at anyone. Whenever we ask him for tips, he explains to us the nuances patiently,” says a junior wrestler.
Arun and the rest are eagerly awaiting Ravi’s return, and they insist that nothing will change despite his success. “For me, he’s the same Ravi, but now with an Olympic medal,” says Arun.