Deepak Ansuia Prasad introduces a visitor from America to Indian-style wrestling with a visit to an akhara in Delhi.
Jim McSweeney and I came into conversation through this blog, kushtiwrestling.blogspot.com, and Facebook. The blog has become popular here in Delhi for people who want information on kushti events and wrestling in India in general. Jim had learned about kushti from the blog and decided he wanted to visit a few akharas (wrestling clubs) during his upcoming visit to India.
I called Kartik Dhar, an acclaimed professional photographer who is working on a project about Indian wrestling and hopes to write a book and hold an exhibition on traditional Indian wrestling culture, and asked him to join us.
It was 2:30 pm and a bright sun was shining above the sky, when I meet Jim at the Metro station Qutub Minar. We exchanged greetings and left for the Guru Jasram Akhara, one of the biggest akharas in Delhi. I had spoken with Guruji earlier about visiting the akhara but he said he was unable to be there as he was out at Ranchi helping to organize the national games there. So I called a few wrestlers and made an appointment with them.
Senior wrestler, Sunil Pahlwan, Azad Pahlwan, Satish Pahlwan, and Monu Pahlwan, were there, but the No. 1 wrestler Vikram Pahalwan was out taking part in a competition.
The akhara is on Mathura Road, opposite Indraprastha Appolo Hospital and was bustling with activity when we arrived. We reached the akhara during practice time, but most of the wrestlers were out visiting the national games venue. Still there were about 30-35 wrestlers warming up -- running, climbing ropes, lifting weights, etc. I introduced Jim to the wrestlers and they welcomed him.
Jim was also a wrestler, and though he is aged, he still has a flair and interest in the sport. He was eager to experience Indian-style wrestling and started doing some warm-ups. When he was ready we took him to the akhara. He had a bout with Sunil, a senior wrestler, then with a junior wrestler. “Why don’t you join in and try” Kartik asked me. So I gave in and also have a bout with Jim who in turn pinned me three times. But winning or losing wasn’t important, we were all enjoying ourselves. I also introduced a wrestler of the akhara to Jim who recently was in South Africa doing WWE wrestling events.
Jim was impressed by the wrestlers’ strength and skill and observed that wrestling here in India is quite unique - like a life style - and there is so much dedication, which is rarely seen back in the U.S. One of the wrestlers showed him how the pit is prepared for wrestling, how it is dug and then leveled, and he saw the exercises we do. He told me that most of the exercises are similar to those done in America, but one thing that is different is the weight training Indian wrestlers do with big wooden clubs, which we swing around the neck to improve our muscles.
He also did some mat wrestling and exchanged views, telling us the English names of some wrestling techniques like the fireman’s carry. We use the same techniques, but just have different names in India. Jim said that in American high schools and universities they practice folkstyle wrestling, which is similar to freestyle but the points are scored a little differently. He also told me that beach wrestling is gaining popularity in the U.S., which is similar to Indian wrestling.
While Guruji was away, all the wrestlers had fun, posing for photos and videos, etc., and we all had a great time.
After we finished, we had tea, and talked about Indian wrestling culture. Then a call came from Guru Ajit Pahalwan ji inviting us to his daughter’s wedding. We accepted and headed out to watch the spectacular Indian event, and I did not forget to ask his permission to come to his akhara for a visit the next day, which he permitted with pleasure.