Sushil Kumar - India's most celebrated wrestler after the Beijing Olympic Games.
Tradition and respect for the seniors is something, which is ingrained in the Indian grapplers. Bowing before their gurus, or touching their feet, before they begin their day comes spontaneously.
So don't be surprised if you see Sushil Kumar - India's most celebrated wrestler after the Beijing Olympic Games - touching the feet of Yogeshwar Dutt, his senior, who too has qualified for the London Games.
"This is a tradition in Indian wrestling and we follow it religiously. It gives us strength and binds us like a family. This is a way to show respect to Yogeshwar, who I believe is a great wrestler and also my senior," says Sushil, still humble despite his Olympic exploits and the fame and fortune that have come his way.
"The senior-junior and guru-shishya (coach-trainee) tradition has to be kept alive because this gives us the inner strength to perform and maintain a high level of discipline, which is a must in our sport. This also puts an obligation on the seniors that they always have to lead by example because the juniors are following them. This is a tradition being passed on for generations right from the days of the Mahabharata," says Sushil, now a tech-savvy grappler, who follows the developments in the sport on his trendy laptop. Sushil's Olympic target
Ask the Najafgarh strongman about what's changed in his life post-Beijing, he says with a mischievous smile, "Now I plan my programme and follow the progress of my rivals on the laptop." Apart from this, nothing has changed. He continues to reside in his Sports Authority of India hostel room No. 113 since the time he shifted to Sonepat from NIS Patiala after Beijing. Remind him of the 'unlucky 13' and he says sardonically, "It has never brought a bad omen in all these years. It's been lucky and will always be lucky for me.
"I preferred the room over the Commonwealth Games Village even when the AC in the room stopped working because I am in my zone when I am here," says the modest grappler.
The laptop, sitting in one corner, goes into 'sleep' mode, but Sushil presses the 'Esc' button and, once again, his bout in the previous Olympic comes alive. "I keep seeing these bouts in my spare time. It's like education for me. I have analysed each and every opponent I might encounter in London. The laptop keeps me abreast of every latest development in my sport."
But getting familiar with the laptop was more difficult than honing a new wrestling technique. "Surfing the net was tough and took me quite a bit of time. But now I am comfortable."
Wedlock and wrestling
Another thing that used to make him uncomfortable was the perennial question of marriage. Life after the medal brought in so many proposals that Sushil found himself grappling with a different problem. Leading a Spartan life in the akhara, and self-imposed curfew, made Sushil uncomfortable with the idea of marriage.
But finally when the his coach Satpal - an Asian Games gold-medallist -brought the proposal of his daughter, Savi, Sushil couldn't say no. "Being from a sporting family, Savi is very understanding and knows the importance of training. She has never asked for my time and, even when I miss her calls, which happens always, she never complains. I have won an Olympic medal for my parents and coaches, now I want to win it for Savi."
Strict training regimen
Ask Sushil's coaches and they will tell you how despite rain, cold or extreme heat, he was there in the mud pit or the gymnasium at the Chhatrasal Stadium before dawn, sharpening his skills. So obsessed is he with training that if he misses it one day, he pushes himself to the limit the next morning. "Winning a medal is not my ultimate aim, it is to keep wrestling till the time I retire from the sport," says Sushil. "Even when I was busy attending the post-Olympic felicitation functions, there was not a single day that I compromised on my training. I call it my sacred place."
Yashvir Singh, Sushil's coach for more than a decade now, says, "I was floored by his training regimen when he came to the Chhatrasal Stadium. In 2007, Sushil lost his grandfather, who had dreamt of making him an Olympic champion. When Sushil got the news he was extremely upset but he returned the next morning to train."
"If anyone has helped me transform into a champion, it's my grandfather. I came back immediately after the cremation ceremony because I had to fulfill his dream. He did not live to cherish my victory, so I looked skywards and offered a silent prayer after my Beijing triumph," says Sushil.
Wrestling may be a challenging sport, one which demands blood and years of toil, but despite the hardships, the transformation at the national level is evident. While earlier, trainees travelled on bicycles and buses, today limos and SUVs outside the Sonepat hostel are a common sight. The belief is that if someone from a humble background can make it, why can't 'we'.
"Sushil's Olympic medal has changed the face of the sport. Hefty cash awards after the CWG success have increased the purchasing power of the wrestlers," says chief national coach Vinod Kumar.
The aspiring may still be training in faceless akharas all over the country, but times have changed. No longer are they satisfied with prize money in dangals, organised in mud-pits. Today they all aspire to be Olympians.
And Sushil is their icon.