From rustic farmlands in Kolhapur to the kabaddi league
When you look at the map of Kolhapur district, you will find many small villages where people are still truly rustic. It is the nursery of India’s rustic sport, kabaddi, now a nationally followed super-sport fast gaining international traction.
The sport of the soil got its new avatar with the inception of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) in 2014 and from then on, the fortunes of the sport changed, bringing into limelight superstars from these small villages.
As Hindustan Times makes the trek to Sadoli Khalsa and Hundalewadi, the reporter and photographer get stuck on more than a few occasions, even with Google maps. But, once the names of Tushar Patil (Sadoli Khalsa) or Siddharth Desai (Hundalewadi, Chandgad) are dropped, passers-by quickly draw the road maps to these PKL superstars’ homes.
The experience is not one to establish that India’s top kabaddi players have deeply rural roots, but to see how after six seasons of the PKL, the ground reality of the ‘gaon’ (village) has changed.
“Due to PKL, people are attracted towards the game. In Kolhapur district, there are many clubs who are blessed with very good kabaddi players and they all can make it to the Pro Kabaddi League,” is the pronouncement of Mansingh Patil, the coach at Sahoo Krida Mandal in Sadoli Khalsa, the place that birthed Patil, a kabaddi star.
Patil, who is now a part of the Patna Pirates, spent two seasons with Puneri Paltan – season 2 and 3 - while in season 4 and 5 he was a part of the Jaipur Pink Panthers.
However, the Patil story to tell involves his life in Pune; even if we have to travel 400km to get it.
Currently, an employee at the Income Tax department in Swargate, Pune, Tushar cycles 20-km every day to stay fit. He is a fitness fanatic. “Tushar used to come for fitness sessions even though his one hand was fractured. He used to exercise with one hand,” says Pawan Patil, coach at Sahoo Krida Mandal. When Tushar first got the call from the Puneri Paltan camp he did not even have mat shoes, so his mother borrowed money.
“My sister told me, ‘see I am giving money for shoes and now, he will make a big name for himself in PKL’. And he did,” said Vaishali Patil, Tushar’s mother.
To maintain his fitness routine, Tushar purchased a cycle instead of a motorised vehicle. It cost him ₹20,000.
“Till today, Tushar does not have a vehicle. In Pune, he brought a cycle for ₹20,000 on which he goes to office every day. Tushar stays near the Dagdusheth temple and his office is in Swargate, so he completes 16-km of cycling every day,” says coach Pawar.
For Patil too, it was the rustic lessons that have kept him grounded in the PKL.
“My training in the early days at Sadoli Khalsa made me physically and mentally strong. The etiquette and manners which I learnt under my coaches is helping me get success in the Pro Kabaddi League,” he says.
In Siddharth Desai’s town of 400 people - Hundalewadi in Chandgad district in Kolhapur - there is no kabaddi field.
“Once the rice crop is cut from the field and the lands gets dry we roll it and start playing there,” said Avinash Desai, the uncle of Siddharth. Siddharth rose from these rice fields to make it to PKL stardom.
Siddharth’s father, Sirish Desai who also used to play kabaddi, gives credit to Suraj, Siddharth’s brother and an Indian army soldier, for the sibling’s PKL success.
“Actually, it was Suraj who was more inclined towards the game and it is only because of him Siddharth is in PKL. Suraj was selected for the Jaipur Pink Panthers, but could not played as Army players are not allowed to take part in PKL,” said Sirish Desai, Siddharth’s father.
It was Suraj who brought Siddharth to Satej kabaddi club in Baner. Practising there for four years helped Siddharth gain an upward surge in the game. “I told him not to join the army. I did not wanted him to miss PKL. Siddharth was always a good player. He took my advice and I am happy with what he is achieving right now,” said Suraj.
Finally, 33-year-old, Mahesh Maruti Magdum from Sadoli Khalsa, is proof that if you work hard enough you can make it from the sofa watching TV, to being on TV.
For five seasons, he watched Pro Kabaadi League on television. In season 6, he is in it.
Magdum has been playing kabaddi for the last 15 years and missed out at every PKL auction. As a captain of the Maharashtra Police team, Mahesh has won many laurels, but his ultimate aim was to play in the PKL.
“For the last two years he decided to only focus on kabaddi and fitness and he did that and got selected. He used to ignore us and practice was his only top priority,” says Sheetal, his wife.
Mahesh is a farm boy. Farm work always came before kabaddi. “In the morning, he would distribute milk in the village, then feed the cow and then go to the farm to do work. All this before going to school. At the end, it was time to play kabaddi. This is how my son grew up,” said Nanda Magdum, mother of Mahesh.
Now with the Bengaluru Bulls, Mahesh says, “When the camp started, I got injured so I could not play the first few matches, but once I recovered after one month, I got an opportunity to play. We are a strong team and other players are really doing well, so whenever I get the opportunity, I try to give it my best.”
Grassroots coaching in India’s kabaddi nursery
Sahoo Krida Mandal in Sadoli Khalsa has two players in the PKL today. Mansingh Patil, the head coach at the krida mandal, says, “In our club, players from not only from our town, but also from nearby villages come for training. We are very keen on fitness. We have a fitness session from 5:30am to 9am and 5:30pm to 8pm is match practice.
On Kolhapur being the next big hub for kabaddi players, after Haryana, he says, “Yes, I feel currently, apart from Tushar and Mahesh, we have Siddharth Desai (U Mumba), Akshay Jadhav (Puneri Paltan) and Ruturaj Koravi (Gujarat Fortunegiants). There are many more who will make to the PKL in the future. Pro Kabaddi League is helping players make careers. It has taken the game to a different dimension.”