Wrestling triumphs aren’t new for Divya Kakran and her father Suraj. Since her pre-teen days, Divya would fight boys at every small village dangal across North India while her father would sell langots on the sidelines. The two would return home with a thick wad of notes, on most days the daughter’s contribution would be bigger.
Over the years, Divya moved to the mat and become one of India’s most promising young wrestler. The father, meanwhile, continued his business. He remained the langot salesman. On Friday, Divya, now 19, won her first senior national medal. Suraj, like so many times in the past, missed the moment when the referee raised her daughter and declared her the winner. “I was selling langots outside the stadium. She is running our family. She wins, earns money and we live because of that. I thought I’ll make some money,” says the father.
The father and daughter returned home with a gold medal that would add glitter to their dingy two rooms house at Gokulpur, east Delhi’s working-class neighbourhood. This a story about a father pushing her daughter into a male-dominated sport because of economic compulsions. It’s a rag to riches tale that has more struggles than the one made famous by Bollywood.
Divya has a very uncomplicated approach to wrestling. On most occassions, she blindly follows her coach’s instructions. Before the Nationals, she had asked a simple question to her coach: “How far can I go in this competition?” When she was told that she could win the title, Divya started believing. She knew that she had to blow away all opposition.
While Divya started in usual fashion — pinning her first opponent Kajal Dimar of Chhattisgarh in the 68kg category, the next two bouts didn’t exactly go the way she had planned. Against Pinki of Railways, Divya was panting after the first period. Though she led the bout 3-1, she looked in no condition to wrestle again. She made most of the 30 second rest, survived the next three minutes and won the bout.
The semi-final too was on similar lines. Navjot and Divya were tied 5-5 with seven seconds to go but the latter was completely out of breath. Navjot’s attack caught her by surprise and she fell in the danger zone but did not concede a takedown. She stuck around to win on criteria. Navjot challenged the decision but the reviews showed there was no takedown. After two gripping bouts, Divya assured herself of a medal, the first, at Senior Nationals.
“Every time I wrestle, I try to pin. But today I wanted to wrestle for six minutes and score points so the others know that I can do both things. Pinning was an option but I was getting exposed and giving up points too easily,” Divya says. “I was tired because I vomited thrice before the bouts today. I think weight cut was the reason. But I am happy I pulled it off as I had planned.”
During her dangal days, Divya always wanted to win by pinning her opponents as this would get more rewards. But wrestling on the mat was different. An outright win was difficult. Last year, she finished 12th in 63kg category. A year later, she wanted to set the record straight but this was not her dream three months back.
After her first major silver medal at the Asian Championships in July, Divya had to stop wrestling. With a stone detected in her kidney, she had to pay regular visits to the hospital. “For three months I went to AIIMS and I was so depressed. It was not the best time for me as I had won a medal in Delhi and was hoping to go to World Championships in Paris,” recalled Divya.
She had to miss the trials for Worlds because of the same problem and when she returned to training, she was struggling. The pain would aggravate, forcing her to step away. With the Nationals and U23 World Championships round the corner, Divya had to be prepared. This forced her to shift her base to Uttar Pradesh.
“Delhi doesn’t provide anything. I have medals at national and international level but there is nothing in return, so I decided to wrestle for UP. Atleast there is cash rewards for medal winners,” she said.
Before reaching Indore, Divya travelled to Rohtak to participate in the Inter-University tournament where she dominated her category to defend her title from a year ago. She now doesn’t want to stop and eyes the two big tournaments next year. “I missed wrestling in those three months and now I don’t want to stop. There is the U23 Worlds in Poland. Then there is the Commonwealth Championships. I want to keep going and continue until CWG and Asian Games for now.”