Sunday Special | Bengaluru

‘Garadi manes’ muscle their way back to popularity

Practice sessions at the Pehalwan Garadi in Shivaji Nagar, Bengaluru.   | Photo Credit: Sudhakara Jain

The rusted hinges creak in protest as the door swings open. A strong smell of mustard oil and incense, overlaid with sweat, pervades the room on Slaughterhouse Road in Shivaji Nagar, an old part of Bengaluru where tradition still holds sway despite a rapidly changing neighbourhood.

Inside the room, a group of young men clad only in langotis, their bodies glistening with mustard oil, are chatting with each other. “Dand maro (do push-ups),” shouts a middle-aged, bearded man, sitting on a wooden stool. No one dares to ignore coach Ansar Pehalwan. This traditional gymnasium — akhada or garadi mane or taleem for the locals — is a far cry from the sleek, modern gyms, lined with a machine for every muscle. Instead of elliptical trainers and treadmills, weights of stones and huge spades line one end of the wall.

As part of the warm-up routine, the students have to dig up the red mud on the floor of the workout area and level it again.

However, going by the number of school and college students as well as professionals practising, these old school garadi manes are holding their own against the new gyms on the block. It does help that the training sessions here are free of cost.

According to the people running these traditional gyms, their clientele has increased after the success of Bollywood films like Sultan and Dangal.

“Many have now started opting for the garadi manes as the training techniques we teach them have been passed down from one generation to another,” said Ansar Pehalwan.

No room for women

But a Geeta Phogat would not get a look in here — the garadi manes have always been and remain a male bastion. The youngest of the boys in Ansar’s group is Arfat, a Class 7 student of the Jamia Ulm School in the City Market.

At 13, he performs the rigorous exercise with grace and ease. “I do a 1,000 push-ups and squats everyday. After school, I come here and work out,” he said.

Sufian, a shy 17-year-old smiles, and starts oiling his body. “These traditional methods have increased my focus in academics,” he said, swinging a sturdy, wooden club over his head.

It’s not just students who patronise the garadi manes Young professionals, including engineers, film directors and an odd doctor, train here.

An older convention

A few kilometres away, at the Ustad Pehlwan Kale Bhai Garadi, also in Shivaji Nagar, practice sessions have begun. Twenty-eight-year-old S. Karthik, an engineer who works with a mobile phone company, is busy digging the red sand on which the wrestlers practise kusthi (wrestling).

“Every wrestler has to level the mud as a warm-up exercise. I used to visit a modern gym earlier. But here the exercises are more functional and build immense stamina, which is useful in gripping the opponent during wrestling,” he said.

Apart from Shivaji Nagar, Ulsoor also boasts these traditional gymnasiums. One of them is the Muthialamma Garadi Mane, founded by Pehalwan Srinappa, Though hidden by the Someshwara Temple, the garadi is frequented by many youngsters in the mornings and evenings.

It’s where Kushal Raj, a final-year aeronautical engineering student trains. “I joined this place more than a year ago. My body got toned in a few months. Though I took a break for three months, I did not put on weight unlike what happens when you discontinue the [mechanised] gym workout,” he said.

Software engineer Ahmed Kashif (28), who works out in the Ustad Pehlwan Kale Bhai Garadi, says most white-collared professionals have inhibitions about taking part in kusthi. “Many feel awkward when they smear their bodies with mud. But these workouts have a long lasting effect,” he concurs.

For coaches like Ansar and Arif, who oversee the Ustad Pehlwan Kale Bhai, garadi manes are more than just a place to exercise in. “Here, Hindus and Muslims practise together. There is no religion when it comes to wrestling on the mud,” said Arif Pehalwan.

Despite dire predictions of their demise, garadi manes continue to attract enthusiasts. Ansar Pehalwan, who has wrestled for over 40 years, says he wants to keep the spirit of these physical workouts alive, and hopes that it will become mainstream once again. “The garadi mane is fighting for survival and we all fervently pray that it wins,” he added.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 5:43:42 AM |

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