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The good-old pahalwan

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Gangadhar Rao at the wrestling pitPhoto: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar
Gangadhar Rao at the wrestling pitPhoto: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar

At an age when people prefer to walk cautiously to avoid a fall, this septuagenarian spends time at the wrestling pit with his followers.

A senior wrestler and a former railway employee, Kanthi Gangadhar Rao lives the age-old adage “Health is Wealth”.

Born in a family of wrestlers, in 1935, he literally ruled the akhadas (wrestling arena) in Andhra Pradesh along with his guru Munuswamy and won six State-level championships in the bantam weight category. “I was No. 3 in the country in bantam category in the 1960 senior nationals,” recalls Rao with a sense of pride.

He joined the Vijayawada division of South Central Railway in sports quota as a khalasi and helped the SCR win many inter-railways competitions. “I was the first recruit in the Vijayawada division in sports quota in 1959. I was also a part of the SCR team that won five team championships in the inter-railway bouts”.

Rao defeated many of his rivals in competitions held at Tenali, Guntur, Chirala, Nellore and Vizag and won several golden ‘maces” (Gadha in Telugu). “Those days the victors were given maces as a symbol of strength”, he recounts.

Reminiscing how the akhadas were spruced up for the big bouts which evoked loud cheers from the audience, he says thousands of people would throng the venue to see the musclemen in action. Most of the publicity was through cycle rickshaws with public address system fixed on them. The news of the bouts would be announced in the public address system amidst drum beats. “Legendary freestyle wrestlers like Dara Singh, King Kong and Ajit Singh had fought bouts in Vijayawada amidst packed crowds. Those were the golden days,” Rao goes nostalgic.

The die-hard wrestler is not too happy with the youth of the day who mostly prefer either weight-lifting or body-building. “Thanks to the impact of movies, the present-day youth is crazy about six-packs. The youngsters want to grow muscles to look like the celluloid heroes.

The growing number of gymnasiums in the city is ample proof of the rage for weight-lifting, pushing the akhadas to the back-burner.

The senior wrestler feels that the ever-growing popularity of cricket is taking a heavy toll on other sports and games and youngsters are addicted to cricket which was once considered the gentleman’s game.

The local administration should take steps to protect traditional sports and the elected representatives and the public in general should encourage the native sport, he opines, pointing to the fact that wrestling improves stamina and fitness tremendously.

Spend just one hour at a wrestling pit and see the difference it makes in your breathing pattern”.

J.R. Shridharan

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