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I prefer to fight men in the ring: Kavita Devi

‘I had to fight my parents, my in-laws, and even my husband to become a sportsperson,’ says Kavita Devi.

‘I had to fight my parents, my in-laws, and even my husband to become a sportsperson,’ says Kavita Devi.   | Photo Credit: AKHILESH KUMAR

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Hard KD, as she is known in the ring, is the first Indian woman wrestler to make it to WWE

Six days a week, Monday through Saturday, Kavita Devi — the first Indian female wrestler to make it to WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) — makes her way from her paying guest accommodation in Jalandhar to the outskirts of the city.

On the highway to Hoshiarpur, posters of former WWE champion Dalip Singh Rana ‘The Great Khali’ announce that you have reached his Continental Wresting Academy (CWE), a two-storey white building where Devi trains from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. But not today.

The day we visit, excruciating stomach pain has landed her in hospital. Some tests later, she is told she has an infection and needs rest. But there is no stopping Hard KD, as she is known in the ring, from hopping on to her scooter, medication in hand, to race down to the academy to meet us.

At 5’9”, the Haryanvi wrestler with impressive biceps has an easy smile and a no-nonsense way about her. Dressed in tracks and a T-shirt, her long hair, which she generally wears loose during bouts, is tied in a tight bun.

Dumbbells and more

We walk up to the first floor of the dusty building that houses an L-shaped gym, with a row of makeshift rooms on one side where some of the other students stay. After a round of bicep curls with 10-kg dumbbells, she moves on to some back exercises while telling me that having been at CWE for over a year, she now takes care of her own gym routine.

A visiting American trainer issues some tips on technique, and her mentor Khali comes in to train the 200-plus students for important bouts. Every Saturday evening, CWE transforms into a venue for a “night show”, colourful lights flashing and crowds cheering wildly as 20-odd wrestlers put up a show of strength and staged drama in a string of bouts.

Devi’s off the show circuit for the next few months to avoid injuries before her WWE stint begins in January.

Downstairs in the ring, she invites fellow wrestler Sunil Dahiya to a feud. He attacks her, she fights back, grabbing his waist in a tight grip, face contorted, eyes determined, taking him down and catching him by the neck before lifting him up across her shoulders in a theatrical show of strength.

He weighs 90kg, she, 63. Devi is a vegetarian who loves her dairy-dense diet with favourites like sooji kheer, halwa, desi ghee churma, and dalia.

“I prefer to fight men in the ring,” she says, laughing. “I feel a deep satisfaction defeating a man, because all my life I have been against what most men stand for. They are unable to handle a woman doing better. In Malvi village where I grew up, when my sisters and I used to laugh as kids, my mother would tell us to keep it quiet. Boys could laugh as loudly as they wanted.”

“I would be scolded for lining my eyes with kohl and using vaseline on my lips. People would say, ‘dekho fashion kar rahi hai’ (she is trying to be fashionable). Boys could do and dress as they pleased. I was allergic to this kind of discrimination. I had to fight my parents, my in-laws, and even my husband Gaurav to become a sportsperson, though we had a love marriage and he was also into sport (volleyball).”

Kavita Devi likes to show off her biceps.

Kavita Devi likes to show off her biceps.   | Photo Credit: AKHILESH KUMAR

But her family has gotten more supportive over the years, Devi says, especially her husband. He gave up sports to take up a job in Delhi to support the family, despite hating it. “My brother Sanjay Dalal sensed my deep interest in sports as a kid and encouraged me to keep going, taking care of all the backlash,” she says.

Meeting the Khali

One of five children, born to a family of farmers, the 34-year-old started off as a weightlifter at 20, with moderate success but little financial help. She won gold in the 2016 South Asian Games.

A chance meeting with Khali last year, arranged by her brother and husband, got her interested in wrestling. Why did she choose wrestling over weightlifting? “The kind of recognition and opportunities I got as a wrestler in one year is very motivating.”

Indian wrestlers are much in demand in the West, and wrestling in India has a significant viewership as well, a fact confirmed by the highly active social media team at CWE, which monitors its YouTube channel regularly.

“On the flipside, wrestling is a highly dangerous sport and injuries are very common, though I haven’t been seriously hurt yet. There are a lot of stunts involved, as it’s all about entertainment and a show of strength,” says Devi.

But Hard KD admittedly enjoys every bit of this drama, revelling in her personal style in the ring. Earlier this year, a video of her bout at WWE’s Mae Young Classic wearing a shiny orange salwar suit with a dupatta tied around her waist went viral for being quirky.

“Most women in WWE wear two-piece costumes while fighting. I wanted to make the point that you can wrestle in anything you like. I think it will motivate other women in India. I am thinking of adding ghungroos to my outfit to add another Indian touch,” she grins.

She also likes to show off her biceps, climbing up the sides of the ring, and slapping her thighs kabaddi style while wrestling. What she doesn’t enjoy about being a celebrated wrestler, though, is being away from her husband and son Abhijeet, now six, who she had to leave with her sister-in-law in Khekada, U.P., a little after he turned a year old, as she had to train at various sports camps.

“I did try to give up my sporting career midway as I felt terribly guilty about being away, but I wasn’t happy. I had to get back to play.” Now that she is through to WWE, with a three-year contract in hand, she will be allowed to have her family live with her once she settles down in Florida. That will be the cherry on top of a delightful cake.

The writer is a freelance journalist, lover of cakes, chai, bookshops and good yarns.

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 2:02:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/i-prefer-to-fight-men-in-the-ring-kavita-devi/article20783913.ece

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