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In Sarfabad village, wrestling is the way to settle disputes

Wrestling is what defines Sarfabad, which has a history of 275 years of “having one pahalwan in every household”.

noida Updated: Apr 16, 2018 23:11 IST
Vaibhav Jha
Vaibhav Jha
Hindustan Times
Sukhbir Pahalwan,Safrabad village,Sarfabad wrestlers
Over 100 amateur and professional wrestlers, including schoolchildren, train on a daily basis at Sukhbir Pahalwan’s akhara in Sarfabad village in Noida.(Sunil Ghosh/HT Photo)

In Sarfabad village of Noida, a dangal (wrestling bout) is the easiest way to settle disputes.

“It saves money of both parties — they don’t have to pay off policemen to settle the case — and it also provides entertainment to the masses,” chuckles a veteran pahalwan (wrestler) of Sarfabad.

According to village elders here, if two people get into a dispute, they don’t get into a brawl and nor are the police involved; rather the elderly of the hamlet sit together and announce a dangal between the two parties to resolve their issues.

Located in the midst of planned sectors and high-rise societies, Sarfabad might appear as one of those vague, Delhi-NCR villages that pop up when you google crime stories every now and then.

Scratch a bit deeper and one can find as many as 200-250 amateur and professional wrestlers in this Noida village. What’s more, wrestling enthusiasts from western UP and Haryana flock here every year in August when the dangal season begins.

Uphaar Sharma(22) a national level wrestler from Dankaur Gautam Budh Nagar, is eyeing a post in Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) or Railways under sports quota. (Sunil Ghosh/HT Photo)

Wrestling is what defines Sarfabad, which has a history of 275 years of “having one pahalwan in every household”. Here, families boast of ‘khurak’ (diet) of their in-house wrestlers and matchmaking is done according to the chest size of the men. Predominantly home to the Yadav community, Sarfabad is also infamous for being the native place of former Mafiosi-turned politician DP Yadav, who is currently serving a life sentence in Dehradun jail.

“Kushti (wrestling) is the glue that has kept the social fabric of this village intact for almost three centuries. The sport thrives here in every household as we train young boys to professional athletes,” says Surendra Singh Yadav, a resident and wrestling coach of Sarfabad.

However, with the fast-paced urbanisation of Noida, the village is like any other urban village of Delhi-NCR— it has accepted the charms of consumerism as is evident from the swanky SUVs parked under cowsheds in pucca houses. As a result, veterans wrestlers fear that youngsters will now be lured away by corporate jobs and higher education opportunities, much to the detriment of the sport.

“It’s a fact that the number of professional and amateur wrestlers has declined in Sarfabad. Hunt for employment has made many men leave the village while others just boast of wrestling as a hobby they inherited from their fathers. I always tell young people that studies are important but so are sports. Kushti gives you discipline, teaches you values and keeps you away from vices,” says Sukhbir Singh, an army veteran and former wrestler who runs a ‘akhara’ in the village.

Coach Surendra Singh Yadav, an army veteran, trains young wrestlers in Sarfabad in a bid to sustain the wrestling culture of the village. (Sunil Ghosh/HT Photo)

To provide a ‘professional touch’ to the wrestling culture of Sarfabad, 49-year-old Singh alias Sukhbir Pahalwan has been training young boys for the past 15 years. Employed as a wrestler in the army, Singh took retirement at the age of 34, after a knee injury in 2003.

Over 100 young men and boys train in his akhara every day and many have represented Uttar Pradesh in the national games. A few, such as 27-year-old Subodh Yadav, have represented India in the Asian Games.

Every day, Singh reaches his akhara by 6am to guide the young wrestlers who train in the loose soil mixed with henna, mustard oil and turmeric to avoid bodily injuries.

Checking the soil quality, Singh says, “Hundred years ago, we had legendary wrestlers such as Malkhan Pahalwan and Balwant Pahalwan who had trained all their lives under extreme poverty with only mustard oil available to them. Today, our boys have all the facilities, including a proper diet, yet we find it difficult to make them pursue wrestling as a profession.”

However, ‘lack of interest’ is not the only hurdle for the young wrestlers of Sarfabad. Diets are expensive and lack of employment opportunities keeps troubling them.

“A regular diet of any wrestler includes a huge quantity of almonds, 1.5 litre milk, fruits, juice and other protein nutrients. They have to shell out a minimum Rs 1,000 every day on food. Although we train here for free, the cost of the diet makes it even difficult for a few to take up professional wrestling. I know a few wrestlers who had to seek jobs as bouncers to continue their diet,” says 22-year-old Gaurav Chaudhary, who had appeared in the national games last year.

Wrestlers at Sukhbir Pahalwan’s akhara prefer army posts over government jobs. However, none of the 50 wrestlers who have been trained here have been employed by any state or central government agency.

“Since I have participated in national games thrice, I was eligible for a Grade 4 division job but I refused to apply since I am eyeing a post in Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) or the Railways,” says 22-year-old Uphaar Sharma, a Dankaur-based wrestler who trains in Sarfabad.

Sukhbir Pahalwan believes that it is the duty of society to ensure that a wrestler doesn’t have to lose his dignity to seek a livelihood once he his past his prime.

“The life of a wrestler is not easy when you have to train four to five hours every day amid dust and soil and take care of your body weight with a strict diet. We don’t allow our boys to go to the movies or pubs as wrestling requires dedication and focus. A wrestler puts his entire youth at stake and trains hard to bring glory to his state and country. When his prime days are over, it becomes the responsibility of society to take care of him,” Sukhbir argues.

In such times, the ‘dangal’ season in August and September is a windfall for wrestlers as organisers place bets on them according to the tournaments they have participated in.

For example, a national level wrestler can easily fetch a bet of Rs 30,000 whereas an Asian Games wrestler gets a bet as high as Rs 50,000. Wrestlers from western UP and Haryana also attend the dangals, adding to the charm.

Their coach Surendra Singh Yadav believes that excessive exposure to traditional wrestling such as might also act as a hindrance for wrestlers when they go for international tournaments.

“The typical stance wrestlers use in dangal is the ‘Hanuman stance’ where one leg protrudes ahead of the other and the body is bent forward. However, according to international wrestling standards, keeping your legs together benefit the wrestler in maintaining balance. It becomes difficult for players to unlearn the tricks of dangal and adapt to international standards,” Yadav says.

However, for Sukhbir Pahalwan, it is not the professional glory but personal etiquette that matters most.

“Wrestling teaches perseverance, patience and tolerance. After a knock-out or an unintentional ‘backbreaker’ move, a wrestler might feel humiliated and angry but he has to learn to control his anger and use it judiciously at the right time. Before learning wrestling, a player must learn humility and compassion. He has to put his ego aside and learn to bend as a token of respect for his elders and colleagues. Without humility, a wrestler is nothing but a street goon,” Sukhbir says.

As Sukhbir kept explaining the nitty-gritty of wrestling, Gaurav Chaudhary and Uphaar Sharma (both 90kg category wrestlers) are locked in a bout. Chaudhary pounces on Sharma from behind, bends his hand towards his back, puts his knee on his head and makes him taste the soil till he accepts defeat. A few minutes later, both the wrestlers are seen sharing a ‘badam milk’ and friendly banter.

First Published: Apr 16, 2018 23:11 IST