Saturday, August 30, 2007

Bronze heroes
Their humble origins did not stop Vijender and Sushil from winning medals at the Beijing Olympics
M.S. Unnikrishnan

EVER since Sushil Kumar struck the 66 kg free-style wrestling bronze medal in the Beijing Olympic Games, there has been a ceaseless stream of visitors to the double-storeyed house at 496, Najafgarh Road in the dusty Baaprola village, not very far from the house of another famous resident — Virender Sehwag.

The entire Baaprola village, and the Solanki clan in particular, have been making regular visits to the house as Sushil’s triumph has brought unbridled joy to the people of the area. The villagers even collected Rs 1 lakh to be presented to Sushil after they got the news of his victory.

Sushil’s parents — Dewan Singh Solanki and Kamla Devi, grandmother Gyano Devi and siblings Sandeep, Amarjit, Manjit, Sunita, Sita and Deepika have been welcoming the visitors with a smile. The house is full of the medals and trophies won by the wrestler. A photo of Sushil, holding a mace, gets a place of pride on the wall.

Born in 1983, Sushil showed interest in wrestling when he was barely five, recalls his father Dewan Singh. He learnt the rudiments of the sport at the local Vivekanand Vyayamshala before joining the Guru Hanuman Akhara. From there, he went to Satpal’s akhara at the Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi.

Satpal took Sushil under his wings when he saw the potential of the 10-year-old at the National School Games in 1994. Ever since, Sushil has been horning his skills under Satpal’s coaching. Satpal is confident that Sushil will bring greater glory to the sport and the country.

Sushil’s talent was evident when he won the world cadet title, silver medal in the Asian Championship and the gold medal in the Commonwealth Championship in 2007. The Arjuna Awardee trained hard at Belarus, Cuba and in China as part of his Olympic campaign, though nobody expected him to bring a medal, after he finished 14th in the 60 kg category at the Athens Olympics four years ago. But Sushil has been among the top 10 wrestlers for the past four years. He had notched up some fine victories during this period. He was seventh in the last World Championship at Baku (Ajerbaijan).

Reminisces Sushil’s father Dewan Singh that the grappler’s grandfather Hoshiar Singh and he himself wrestled in local akharas but the exigencies of life forced them to pursue a job than to pursue their passion for the game.

But when his son entered the wrestling arena, Dewan Singh, a driver with Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, spared no effort to support his son to pursue his chosen sport.

According to mother Kamla Devi, the secret of her son’s strength was the pure ghee, which she used to feed him. Sushil has become the darling of Baaprola and a role model for the youth of his village. No wonder, thousands of people from the village choked the Indira Gandhi International Airport in the wee hours of Monday to welcome Sushil. A cavalcade of more than 100 vehicles accompanied Sushil as he motored to his house with coach Satpal. The locals believe that the village has been blessed after Sushil’s medal win in the Olympics.

Whether Sushil’s success brings luck to Baaprola or not, the young grappler has reaped a rich harvest of more than Rs 1.5 crore in cash prizes and an out-of-turn promotion in the Railways from a Ticket Collector to Assistant Commercial Manager.