The smell of the mitti and some “purje-tight-kar-degi” Phogat-vibe channelling wrestlers. Khabar Lahariya in the front row at the Gosaiganj Nagar Mahadangal.
In its supreme takeover of box office record history, the movie Dangal has been an inspiration not just to those in Haryana, but to girls interested in wrestling elsewhere as well. It’s brought in excitement and a new wave of energy amongst the girls – and we witnessed it up close in Faizabad, in the pit and off it, in our chat with local contestants Shivangi and Anjali.
It’s the annual wrestling contest, with the no-nonsense title of ‘Mahadangal’, which is organised in Gosaiganj Nagar, Faizabad usually in the months of January and February. And it’s little wonder that this time, it’s open for girls who’d like to contest. Such as Shivangi from Gorakhpur and Anjali from Lucknow. We first see them somersaulting through the air and managing seemingly impossible manoeuvres, as we catch in on the vibe around that’s buzzing on about who’s got a better chance at winning the title, who’s going to get better at her game.
Shivangi, a national level player from Gorakhpur, oozes confidence. A wrestling pro, she tells us that she’s got some 70-odd medals lying around her house. Very matter-of-fact. “I have never lost a state level match”, she smiles, and adds, “Every contest I take part in, I win.” Shivangi spent years practicing in her village, which has nothing in the name of a proper wrestling ground, she tells us, but “there are always mats”. She got chosen for trials and is today undergoing more formal training. Her family, not a picture-perfect postcard in terms of initial support, has today come around what with having to make space for those 70-odd medals. She also trains younger girls now and not just in wrestling. Athletics, she tells us, is her other love.
Anjali is the big city girl, and speaks of encouragement at home in a slightly better vein, but confesses that rewards can only be appreciated when they are seen. Like Shivangi, she is extremely confident about her wrestling career and its future. “I am doing quite well now. I am positive that if I continue like this, there will be bigger and better opportunities that will come my way.”
The organisers of the Mahadangal, Hanuman Prasad Soni and Surajbhan Singh, have no doubt factored in The Aamir Khan effect with this year’s contest. We hear about lucrative ticket prices – the sound of kaching! is blissful to everyone, after all – and hear them talk about positive channelling of youthful energy. Singh speaks of social bonding that comes alive during dangal time and adds the message, “There is such rampant alcoholism amongst the youth today. We sincerely hope that this inculcates in them, a healthy outlook to life.” Soni wants to do more for the sport and looks to the people of Faizabad and beyond to “take it to greater heights”. “This is our traditional sport, and we have it in us to do more for it.” We ask Singh about women participating and he nods, “Women are representing our country internationally in sports. They are protecting the nation’s borders. So why not here? That’s why we thought we should have them participate and fight. Women, they should be everywhere.” Amen.
This article was first published on Khabar Lahariya.