Fitness

At 93, V K Palani is still the driving force behind this akhada

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Nonagenarian wrestler VK Palani continues to be the driving force behind the 75-year-old Palanganatham Akhada

“I am 93-years-old but I don’t feel it,” declares VK Palani, who runs the Pudhu Yuga Valibha Deha Payirchi Salai, a traditional gym in Palanganatham. He teaches the art of mud wrestling to people who are less than half his age. “My students tell me they are fans of Sylvester Stallone, who at 73 has a gym-sculpted body,” he smiles, adding, “I rely on my diet and disciplined lifestyle.”

“Even now, I wake up at 4 am everyday and go to bed by 10 pm. This is a habit from childhood. Back then, I also used to only walk no matter where and how far I had to go,” says the nonagenarian. For four decades he worked in Meenakshi Mills and walked eight to 10 kilometres each day from his home to work. Now, he says, he tries to walk as much possible but often cycles to places.

At 93, V K Palani is still the driving force behind this akhada

Fit as a fiddle, Palani credits his mother, who he says, fed him half-a-litre raw milk with badam (almond) paste every morning. Now, he sticks to fresh fruits and no-oil food mostly. “I prefer idlis over dosa and occasionally indulge in small quantities of a fish or meat, which my youngest daughter cooks and brings,” he says.

To his students too, Palani advises a simple diet, with raw coconut, dates and ulunduurundai (black gram laddoo) dipped in sesame oil. “To be able to achieve anything in life, you have to be healthy and fit,” says Palani, who’s love for kushti bloomed watching his elder brother do it for fun.

At 93, V K Palani is still the driving force behind this akhada

“When I was growing up, wrestling was very common among the Muslim community in the city. Many of them practised kushti in the backyards of their homes; I too started learning it from a man called Sikkandhar Bhai. He owned a local akhada near my house. He taught us to use the generic wooden club bell or the “karla kattai“ for weight lifting and I still use it,” he says. The instrument weighs 12 kilograms and Palani holds one with both hands and rotates it for twisting, turning and bending exercises.

At 93, V K Palani is still the driving force behind this akhada

“I insist that all my students to do some basic exercises with the karla kattai before jumping into the akhada. But people ask for dumbbells of different weights to build their biceps and muscles,” he notes.

With a tinge of sadness, Palani says he has outlived almost all his friends and family members — including his wife and three sons. His wife died in 1970 while giving birth to their last child.

At 93, V K Palani is still the driving force behind this akhada

The kushti centre was started in 1944 by him and two of his friends. The centre was registered as a Trust in 1998. Palani says, in those days the Communist party used to support the kushti centres and help the pehelwans (wrestlers). “It was perhaps their way to safeguard their party workers and leaders against the rowdy elements,” he says, and recalls names of KS Kumar, Palanganatham Periaswamy, Thadi Krishnan, M Muniyandi, TSA Periaswamy and Mandai Ramu among others, who were famous yesteryear wrestlers. Palani says he enjoyed watching their matches.

At 93, V K Palani is still the driving force behind this akhada

Palani now stays inside the centre and trains his students aged 15 to 55 years. “They are my only connection to the world outside and the akhada is my lifeline,” he says.

At 93, V K Palani is still the driving force behind this akhada

Every morning and evening he freshly prepares the kodha (mud pit), about 8x8 feet in size, for his students. He says that a few police personnel come during the day to practice rope training while his students come before sunrise and after sunset for classes.

At 93, V K Palani is still the driving force behind this akhada

At any given time for his 4 am to 6 am and 6 pm to 8 pm classes, there are about two dozen boys learning kushti from their master. “But it is all for fitness and not to become a professional wrestler,” says Palani, who charges ₹150 per student per month. He started with ₹10 and gradually increased the fee to ₹50 and then ₹100. The fee is still very affordable, he says, and adds that he only wants the youth to adopt a healthy lifestyle and remain fit.

“Earning money is not my priority,” he emphasises.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 6:13:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/nonagenarian-wrestler-vk-palani-runs-the-75-year-old-palanganatham-akhada-in-madurai/article29972929.ece

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