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Yogeshwar Dutt starts ‘college’ of wrestling in Sonepat

Olympic medallist Yogeshwar Dutt has turned an idle college campus into a new seat of learning

other sports Updated: Sep 30, 2018 20:02 IST
Avishek Roy and Navneet Singh
Avishek Roy and Navneet Singh
Gohana (Sonepat)
Yogeshwar Dutt,Yogeshwar Dutt wrestling,Yogeshwar Dutt Academy
Wrestlers practice during a training session at Yogeshwar Dutt academy in Gohana, Haryana.(Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)

An unending stretch of paddy fields on both sides of the concrete road greets you after a sharp right off the Rohtak-Chandigarh highway toward Gohana. Clouds hang low; the gentle early morning breeze livens up the green cover. It’s a captivating view of the countryside in full bloom; a mere two-and-half-hours drive from the chaos of the national capital.

Five kilometres down the road the journey comes to a halt. Our destination -- Bhagwan Parshuram College of Engineering, Gohana -- was on the left. An eerie silence pervaded the vast campus. There were no footfalls in the corridors. The red-coloured building seemed like a depressing edifice with no student in sight. The classrooms were locked; the costly equipment in labs lay covered in dust.

On walking a little further, the eerie silence suddenly gave way to clamour. The voices rang out from a hall inside the campus, where 10, 11-year-olds and above were busy practising the daav-pech (grappling skills) of wrestling.

Drenched in sweat, some were doing push-ups while others waited their turn for a practice bout. Even as the coaches barked instructions to the young wards, a familiar face kept a close watch on the group.

One of India’s Olympics heroes, Yogeshwar Dutt was busy in his quest to shape future champions at his wrestling academy. His academy came up a year ago but has quickly become one of the most sought-after training centres in the country. Young wrestlers from nearby villages, far-flung districts and from Delhi, Maharashtra and Hyderabad are learning wrestling here. Their ambition is stoked by Yogeshwar’s Olympic glory achieved in London in 2012.

Academy on the ruins of a college

For years, Yogeshwar had nursed the dream of working at the grassroots in his heart but never thought he could give it shape immediately after retirement. The project became all the more special for him since he could start it at a place where he grew up and began his arduous journey to stardom. His village Bhainswal Kalan is 10 minutes drive from the academy. Yogeshwar turns up every morning at 5am to oversee the training of 200-odd children.

The place was once a bustling engineering college with 1200 students, who came from Delhi, Rohtak and Sonepat. The college was the vision of Pandit Mange Ram Sharma who wanted to open the channels of higher education in a rural area. The 27-acre land, where the college came up in 2004, was donated by the Bali Gram Panchayat. It was inaugurated with great fanfare and reached its peak in the next four years. Five streams of engineering courses it offered used to be full and around 150 teachers were in employment.

But as engineering colleges mushroomed in the area, the rate of admissions dropped. It became difficult for the management to arrange for campus placements for the students. The college died a slow death. The Trust (Bhagwan Parsu Ram Sewa Samiti), which was running the college, closed down the engineering facility in 2016. The only course where students are still enrolled is for the B.Ed.

Yogeshwar, who was looking for a suitable place to start his academy, approached the trust. “They liked the idea. They said they wanted to give the place for something which can be advantageous to kids in nearby areas and readily agreed,” said Yogeshwar.

Investing own money

He took the campus on lease for five years to start the academy. “I still had to put in Rs70-Rs 80 lakh to buy equipment, refurbish the hall and hostel rooms which were closed. I used all the money I got after winning gold medals in 2014 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games,” he said.

The budding wrestlers stay in the college hostel and study in nearby schools. Yogeshwar also got support from JSW Sports for sponsoring the children who come from economically challenged backgrounds.

Today, Yogeshwar is flooded with requests to admit more students. Two youngsters -- Kunal Patil and Mukesh Bhure -- travelled from Mumbai with their coach to train at the academy.

“The facility at our village is not great. Moreover, we want to learn from Yogeshwar Dutt. So we have come here to know about the admission process,” said Kunal.

Enthusiasm among parents

There is tremendous enthusiasm among parents in the villages nearby since the academy was opened. Renu Tomar, whose son Badal is a trainee here, travels more than 60km everyday to bring milk for her son who is at the academy. “I know Yogeshwar personally. My son got interested in wrestling after seeing him practice at the SAI Sonepat stadium and I always thought I will enroll my kid wherever he opens a centre. I know my son is in right hands.”

Every trainee here carries within him one dream: to win an Olympic gold for India. The walls in their hostel rooms are filled with images of Yogeshwar and a vow to ‘Go for Olympic gold’.

“They trust me so much, the parents, kids. I know I have a big responsibility towards them so I come here every day. I get many requests from coaches and parents but I can only have limited numbers here,” said Yogeshwar, betraying a hint of emotion.

Still, this is just the start. A bigger dream is taking shape: a state-of the-art academy which will include a separate wing for girls. “I have purchased land in Rohtak and the design is also ready. Soon, construction will begin. I also want that kids should get education and there will be provision for that in the new academy,” said Yogeshwar.

First Published: Sep 30, 2018 19:03 IST