There’s a reason they call ramshackle Bhiwani town in Haryana India’s “Little Cuba”.
As dusk falls, a strange, new fear grips residents of this sleepy North Indian town — the fear of power cuts, which they never really worried about.
Over the past week, outages are the only thing that have come between the residents and their heroes: the four boxers in the Olympics coached by Jagdish Singh, all from the Bhiwani Boxing Club (BBC).
“Inverter sales have shot up. More are being brought from Chandigarh and Delhi,” said Hari Om, owner of an electrical goods shop at Hansi Chowk, the town square.
Bhiwani’s latest hotspots are its thekas or local watering holes. A special feature of these local wine shops is that many of these have laid out chairs, along with colour television sets.
“In fauladi chaaron ne shaamein rangin kar di hain (the fab four from Bhiwani have made our evenings memorable),” said Kuldeep Singh as he gulped down a local brew from a steel tumbler.
Two km away, Jagdish’s wife, Champa Devi, has called for backup: extra hands to help her with the household chores. She and daughter Manisha don’t move from front of their TV sets during bouts featuring any of the Haryana Hurricanes in the fray: Akhil, Vijender and Jitender. (Akhil’s medal bout starts at 5 pm today)
In Bhiwani, boxing is more than a sport. It’s the springboard to money, fame and employment. Jagdish Singh said 250 youngsters have been hired by government organisations like the railways.
“Here, one out of 10 kids is into boxing,” said Dilbagh Singh, a three-time national champion from the BBC.
In this surprisingly small town, boxing clubs literally dot the townscape. Coaches, small and big, are always in demand. And admission in boxing clubs is more important than school.
“Vijender is my role model. I used to train with him. I know him very well,” boasts Karnal Singh, a boxer with Durga Boxing Club in Bhim Stadium.
Olympian Vijender, in fact, is hero-worshipped here for another reason: for his rustic good
looks and charisma. He has modelled for men's magazine Maxim and girls gush about him.
“He is a true fighter, the ideal man,” says Lila, a girl walking by a community centre.
It's surprising how the trio of Vijender, Akhil Kumar and Jitender has made it to the Beijing Olympics. Infrastructure is conspicuously lacking. The road leading to Bhiwani most famous address - the BBC - is a pool of knee-deep water.
The training expenses for an average boxer stand between Rs 20,000-Rs 30,000, says Manoj Kumar Singh of the BBC. This is a pittance compared to the huge money spent on training Olympic-level boxers.
Even before Bhiwani's Olympians clinch their medals, residents are planning a roaring welcome for their heroes: a procession that will start from the town dharamshala, winding through every road and alley.