Rustam-e-Hind’ (Lion of India) of 1972, Common Wealth Games gold medallist and Olympic participant Harishchandra Birajdar, the wrestling legend gets talking at the coveted Maharashtra-Kesri wrestling tournament
Harishchandra Birajdar (right) felicitating a wrestler at Maharashtra-Kesri wrestling tournament
I am just 72. And the first thing I have ever stored in my memory, as a kid is the sweet smell of the wrestling soil. I pray that when I die my ash to be mixed with this soil.
How did this dedication and devotion towards wrestling sprout?
A part of it was genetic and a part personal. My coven had taken wrestling as a part of our culture. I always saw my grandfather and my father slugging it out in our courtyard. When I became 12, I wrestled with my father and siblings. Wrestling for about one hour every morning was like our daily breakfast.
So it was your father who introduced you to the ‘matti’?
(Interrupts) No not only did he introduced me to the sport but he was also my first guru as well. An ardent student of wrestling, he would never skip his workout even when he was ailing at the age of 80. He taught me till the age of 12 after that I was enrolled in an Akhada (wrestling school).
Wrestling happened to you at the tender age of 8 and continued till 30; don’t you feel it was very early?
It was the perfect move on my part. Wrestling is the best sport for a complete mental and physical development of a child. The sport makes you active, immune, strong and smart. The exercises and bouts help in building strong muscles and increases bone density, while the body-throws and locks to counter your opponent increase your cognitive skills and intellectual ability.
Indian wrestling struggles to stand in its own country, the sport was recently echoed after the Olympic win of Sushil Kumar. What do you think are the reasons for its downfall?
Traditional Indian wrestling is battling two opponents at the same time. One is politics while other is media; the former has crippled the sport while the later has sidelined it. Political interference in sport competitions and media neglecting wrestling events and achievements has contributed for the downfall of our heritage.
What reasons do you have for blaming the media?
The media always writes and publishes news of some foreign wrestler visiting our country or some entertainment moneymaking event happening in our country. Apart from the news of Sushil Kumar winning the Olympic medal, how much have we read about the aspiring wrestlers. How many articles do we see questioning the role, contribution or progressive steps taken by the government? How will the young minds and the educated people know and acknowledge their heritage sport if the press continues to ignore the sport?
Even with age the aggression and intensity of a wrestler is still abundant?
(Laughs) Well, it will only get more intensifying. They saw that tigers are dangerous at their old age. My anger is not towards anyone in particular but we should be able to respect and accept our heritage. Some of our great freedom fighters were wrestlers, but these facts need to be conveyed to gather appreciation and applause for the matti.
The world now wrestles on foam mats, why do we still slug it in the red soil?
With modernisation, the world has moved to a life of comfort and safety. Previously the soft red soil was the only available option for wrestling enthusiasts. Apart from that there is a science behind that soil it has medicinal properties.