Life, it seems, has pinned Charan Das on the mat. That’s why this former wrestler’s story needs to be told.
The agony of finishing fourth in the 1974 Asian Games 52kg Greco-Roman competition seems nothing in comparison to what fate ladled out to Das, once coach to Olympic bronze medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar.
Das, wife and their 17-year-old daughter live in the slums of Khilona Bagh cheek by jowl with rubbish and open sewers. Forgotten by the country he represented and the sport he was good enough to be thrice national champion (1972-74) in.
“These days, we have no work. I am still trying to find one. My family and I do any job together. I hope we get one soon,” Das, 53, said.
Now, he earns Rs 1600-Rs 1800 in a good month.
Things were never hunky dory but it wasn’t this bad either. Das was a daily wage earner at the Chhatrashal Stadium in 1996 earning around Rs 1400 a month. In 2001, he became a temporary worker earning around Rs 5000 a month. He was sacked in 2008. Wrestler Satpal, in charge of the Chhatrashal Stadium, said that was because Das wasn’t coming to work. It’s a charge Das strongly denies.
Instead he said: “In spite of being a fourth-class employee, I would coach young wrestlers. I worked 11 hours a day, starting from 4am. This is what I got as reward.
“What good are these certificates? For how long would I be able to keep it?” Das said, throwing the bundle wrapped in a torn bed sheet.
Sushil remembered his former coach and said: “I think Charanji is one the best coaches I have come across so far. He definitely deserved something better. It’s a sorry state of affairs. A one-time champion now struggles to have a square meal.”