Calcutta is home to many a wonder. Hidden within her are secrets that await a wide-eyed wondrous discovery. The wrestling pit on the banks of the river at the Mullick Ghat Flower Market is one of the City’s many intriguing facets.
The smell of fresh earth, accompanied by the occasional grunts of hefty stocky men, grappling and rolling in the mud, while the Ghat beyond them carries on its regular schedule- this is the usual scene at the Siyaram Akhara on Mullick Ghat itself.
Meet Jwala Tiwari , the man of great grit and passion, who runs the only Akhara or wrestling pit in the city, all by himself, unaided by any official or governmental help. That takes courage and determination against all odds.
Mud wrestling has been a long and hallowed traditional sport in India. Jwala Tiwari hails from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh and his family arrived in the city several generations ago. Incredibly he has managed to carry on the tradition of the sport in the City which has till date offered little in terms of concrete support.
Malyudh or freestyle wrestling draws its motivation from the spiritual energy that each individual is encouraged to harness. It is a sport requiring much discipline and determination. The routine one has to maintain is all self-imposed, considering there are wrestlers who carry on this schedule not for any competition but for the workout and exercise which this sport brings into their lives.
The wrestlers follow a strict regime of diet, exercise and workout every day with a spirit of persistence and focus.
The City is focused on football and cricket mostly but here, in the shadow of the mighty Howrah Bridge, the wrestling pit is a hub of activity every day in the wee hours of the morning. Interestingly, the soil at the akhara or pit is a unique combination of the soft alluvial Gangetic soil, some also brought in from Uttar Pradesh, blended with turmeric, salt, mustard oil, rose water and neem leaves. This special soil has medicinal properties and is extremely beneficial for the sportsmen who are lathered in it in the course of the game.
Jwala Tiwari is a man of positive vibes who lives and breathes his love and commitment for his sport. Uncannily, he displays the spirit of the City to stick it out against all odds, and be who he is. The pride of the grandfather who sees the future of his sport in the tiny sturdiness of his two and a half year old grandson Bajrang, who frolicks with ease as a wrestler. It is indeed a moment when the heart is touched.
And as I watched the wrestlers plying at their sport, I could not help recognize the metaphor for the City that lay hidden in it. The City grapples messily with the relentless challenges that a regular metropolis faces. There are moments she finds herself overpowered and then there are amazing comebacks. That is the way Calcutta is, that is the way Life is. That is the beauty of this City- she offers countless metaphors for Life once you get talking with her as we do. All the time.
Varun Mishra- thank you for some amazing photographs and more!
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