For Kapil Dhama, it is difficult to remember that he had not seen his father, Subhash, standing at the entrance of the Guru Hanuman Akhara in Shakti Nagar, North Delhi, with a can of milk. “From the day the akhara became my second home—I was 17—my father has brought six litres of milk, a two-litre bottle of chhach (buttermilk), fresh fruits and desi ghee (clarified butter) for me every day.”
When the lockdown has announced in March, Dhama was with Bajrang Punia and Shushil Kumar in the national camp in Sonepat, Haryana. Later on, he managed to reach home which is in Khekra village, in Uttar Pradesh.
Dhama lost his Olympics trial in January and said, “I was planning to return to the akhara in Delhi in a day or two as that is the only home I know.”
Greco-Roman Wrestler from the akhara, Shubham Pawar says, “When the akhara (one of the oldest in Delhi that has produced wrestlers like Asian Games gold medalists, Satpal and Kartar Singh) was shut down, we thought we would continue our training at the rented house in the vicinity and wait for it to open. Soon we realised our mistake.”
Right now, Pawar is staying in a rented room with his fellow wrestlers and said, “It’s about getting nutritious milk, homemade ghee and freshly prepared buttermilk, among other things.”
Pawar shared about his old days when he started coming to akhara, “Since I came to the akhara as a 16-year-old, I never took packaged milk, ghee or chhach. For us wrestlers it’s a no-no. My father arranged to send five litres of milk and two litres of chhach from my aunt’s place in Mavi Kala village in Baghpat as Shamli is a bit too far. Every day, a van arranged by my father brought milk for me. The ghee comes only from home in Shamli, my elder brother brings it every week.”
A Dronacharya awardee, and coach at the akhara, Mahasingh Rao said, “There is absolutely no compromise on that.”
He also said about the akhara, “There are around 45 wrestlers inside the akhara and as many stay in rented rooms, and spend the day training and competing in the akhara. “In my decades of association with the akhara, I’ve seen very few take packaged milk and ghee. Someone or the other is always standing at the door with a can of milk and chhach in the morning.”
Dhama further said, “My father milks the buffaloes early in the morning and leaves Khekra village, 29km away, for the akhara, on a bus, shared vehicle, two-wheeler or train.”
Rao returned to his home in Chirawa in Rajasthan’s Pilani District and said, “They come from far off villages in Sonepat, Rohtak, Baghpat, Shamli, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Greater Noida, among others. On March 22, when the Janta curfew was enforced, they (wrestlers) thought it was a one-off, but once there was a lockdown, and no supplies came from home, it became very tough to keep things going, and finally we shut the akhara in early April,”
Rao further said, “Whosoever could find the means to go home left by the first week of April… some couldn’t make it and are probably living in rented rooms nearby… some may be 13-14 years old. They stay here, take admission in nearby schools, and their nutritional needs are taken care of by their parents staying in villages.”
Rao also said, “A junior wrestler takes 2-3 litres of milk daily, while the quantity goes up for the seniors and higher weight category wrestlers.”
Rao continued, “Our group of 5-6 boys got stuck. We are staying in a rented room. We train inside it as the akhara is locked. We are living on bare essential food supplies, though we have curtailed our training.”
Siddharth Baliyan’s milk and ghee supplies used to come daily from Muzaffarnagar in UP (about 125km away). Sandeep’s brother comes from Rohtak (Haryana).
“Didn’t know things would come to such a pass and we will have to survive on local ghee and packaged milk,” Baliyan said.
Now, Rao is thinking about that how will they organise a grand function to mark the 21st death anniversary of Guru Hanuman on May 24. He said, That and guru ji’s birthday on March 15 are the biggest events for us. We celebrate his life and distribute food prepared in desi ghee to 1000-1200 people. “That will not happen this year, but I request every wrestler to do whatever little they can to feed the poor and needy wherever they are.”