A tin of covers the boxing arena. A majority of the kids here don’t have their own gloves. And to drink water after practice, the lone hand-pump has to be operated very slowly, otherwise sand particles will start coming out along with the water.
You look around and have to wonder, what results will you possibly get with conditions like these? Under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t get anything. But the one thing that cannot be factored in is the passion for boxing that seems inherent in the Bhiwani local.
And because of this, despite the very basic facilities, Bhiwani has become the boxing hub of India. In the recent Asian Boxing Championships in Mongolia, five of the 11-member squad were from this town. They bagged four of the seven medals India won.
In the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, India won five boxing medals. Three were from Bhiwani boys, including Akhil Kumar’s gold. Of the four who qualified for the Athens Olympics, three — Akhil, Vijender and Jitender —were from Bhiwani.
So, facts in hand, we decided to spend some time in the Bhiwani Boxing Club, popularly known as the BBC, to find out what made it special.
Morning or evening, you find hundreds of pugilists honing their skills under the watch-full eyes of Jagdish Singh, a Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach, at the club. The BBC has produced India's top names, Akhil, Doha Asian Games medallist Vijender Kumar and Asian Meet medal winners Dilbagh Singh and Jitender.
"Boxing, somehow, is in their blood and now the people of Bhiwani have discovered that it is the best way to earn a name and fame," says coach Jagdish. "Boxing has always been popular in the city and its vicinity, and the rise of local boxers has boosted this interest immeasurably," he adds.
Does the poor infrastructure hamper performance? "Most of the boys are from villages. They are rough and tough. So they are not bothered about the infrastructure and have never complained. But give them better infrastructure, they will get better results," the coach asserts without hesitation.
The interest in the sport is growing by leaps and bounds, exemplified by the many private academies that have sprung up over the last couple of years. In the '80s, Bhiwani had only two centres - the SAI Centre and the main stadium- but now has as many as eight, including five private academies catering to nearly 700 boxers.
Earlier, the late Hawa Singh and the late Rajinder Singh Yadav contributed immensely to producing world-class boxers from the town, that baton has now been passed onto Jagdish. And the passion for the sport is touching a new high.
Ask any novice at any academy what he wants to be and pat comes the answer: "I want to be an Olympic champion; I want to box like Akhil and want to grow like Vijender."
Neeraj Kumar, 11, has been training for three years and has already won a bronze in the 36 to 38 kg category (sub-junior group) in the 2006 state championship. Says another young boxer, Naveen, "I'm practising hard to win an Olympic medal." His idol is Vijender.
Vijender, incidentally, is the next big thing in Bhiwani after Akhil. His success has inspired many young boys from his village, Kalwash, to take up the sport.
"We get a number of boxers from nearby villages, most from Kalwash. There is a boxer in almost every house and boxing is as popular as cricket there," says Jagdish. If Sanjay Kumar was the first boxer from the village to wear the India colours, Vijender is the village's new superstar.
"I took up boxing because of my uncle Narinder, who was a national-level boxer," says Vijender, adding that the renewed interest in boxing in Kalwash has had a happy side effect. "Earlier, young men spent a lot of energy in brawls, giving the place a bad name.
Now, that force and energy is directed towards boxing. Daily, there are nearly 100 kids from Kalwash in various centres here."
The town's reputation has grown so much that, now, boxers from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are coming here to hone their skills. "I have come from Varanasi to BBC to better my standard," says 15-year-old Satyam, who brought two friends and fellow boxers along.
Around 150 to 200 boxers from the region have been given sarkari jobs, in the railways and the police. "Bhiwani district touches the Rajasthan border. There are no big industries and you can't depend much on farming. So youngsters look to sports as a livelihood, something that will better their lives," says Jagdish.
Suresh Kumar, the father of Vikas, 9, and Shekhar, 7, agrees. "There aren't many job opportunities here and I want my kids' future secure. So I have put both into boxing three months ago."
In this little Cuba of Indian boxing, the competition is so fierce that if you have a top rank in your weight category and age group in Bhiwani, it means you are more or less No. 1 in the country. "We have been winning the Haryana State Championship in all the three age groups (sub-junior, junior and senior) for 11 years."
"Around 80 per cent of the state's team is from Bhiwani," says Akhil, adding that Haryana had lifted the junior national title five times in six years. Among the seniors, the maximum gold medal winners, be they from Services or Railways, are Bhiwani born— or bred."
Motivation from seniors, good cash incentives; the vital promise of a job; a natural flair, and some exuberant passion… they have all contributed to Bhiwani's growing boxing brigade.
So here's a thought: If the government really wants to do something for the sport and plans to develop a sports culture, it would probably do well to look to inner India and begin developing these sporting hubs.
There's a wealth of talent waiting to be discovered.