Khadir Ahmed, a wrestler himself, recalled and said“When I used to work out, my father used to warm desi ghee and I would drink 250 ml of raw ghee every day before beginning my workout. I must tell you that the morning session was only about 2500 to 3000 sit-ups, and sweat used to flow like water”.
Bangalore and the Garadi Mane, or as they are popularly called ‘Akhadas’ share a rich and long history. The tryst between the two began centuries ago when the Maharaja of Mysore, Ranadhira Kanteerava Narasaraja Wodeyar wanted all the men in his kingdom to be strong and agile. Therefore, he started holding kushti competitions and called for pehalwans from other kingdoms as well. He took a keen interest in the training of young boys to become pehalwans. Eventually, these wrestlers were included in his Royal Guards.
The soil is no regular soil that is picked up from street sides. It is a special ‘sea sand’ that is brought, mixed with ghee, milk, kumkum, and gheru. Only after worshipping the soil can the wrestler step into the pit. This tradition has been maintained by the Kannadigas for generations. Old wrestlers recall that there used to be times when households survived only on wrestling, “sometimes, even three generations would practice in the same akhada at the same time”, recalled Pehalwan Arif,60 the oldest wrestler of Shivajinagar Garadi. Khadir Ahmed fondly remembered how in the olden days, they would have wrestlers coming in from Mysore, Kolhapur, Sholapur, Delhi, Bombay, Haryana, and many other places.
Today, the popularity of wrestling seems to be gradually declining. Now, there is no consistency amongst wrestlers, they come once in a few days to train and some never come back. The youth is more inclined to get a ripped physique from modern-day gyms. Dumbbells, barbells, and various modern machines seem to attract more eyes than these traditional akhadas.
The athletes train free of cost in the Garadi Mane, therefore, the Shivajinagar akhada could not keep up with its maintenance. Therefore, Ustad Kale Bhai decided to double it up as a biryani joint in the afternoons. Currently, mornings and evenings are reserved for the kushti practices and afternoons are for kebabs and biryani.
As you step inside the small door at around noon, you can smell the aroma of mutton chops being stir-fried in the kitchen. It is a matter of luck if one finds a seat immediately after stepping in. As one sits on the bench, in a matter of two minutes, comes a plate overloaded with biryani so much so that the plate cannot take even one more grain of rice. Kebabs are one dish that melts as soon as you bite them. Ashfaq Mahmood, a college student, and a regular customer said, “This is one of the best biryanis that I have ever had”.
“We started with the mess around 28 years ago, just because we could not meet up with the maintenance”, sighs Khadir Ahmed, the manager of the akhada-cum-biryani joint. “The pandemic hit wrestling when the trend of gyms came up. Now, everyone wants a quick body, and they prefer gyms over traditional akhadas. We are losing out because if nobody is coming to practice here, the place is useless then!”
Wrestling veterans, those who have trained only in mud define this to be the best form of workout. Pehalwan Sana’ Ulla described, “Training in akhadas is profit from head to toe, a lot of strength is built. It’s been 15 years since I left professional wrestling, but till today, I can exert the same strength and practice the sport whenever I like. In gyms, however, if you leave training for six months, your body will be back to square one”.
While emphasizing the values behind wrestling, Khadir Ahmed said, “Anger management is one of the core things that wrestlers have to learn. The concept behind the sport was to learn how to be strong enough to defend oneself and the weaker section. Now, the picture for wrestlers has changed. Youngsters would come, work out for 15 days, and on the 16th day, he would be intimidating someone else. That’s how the name of wrestling has been tarnished”
Regardless of how fast the times are changing, there are still wrestlers like Khadir Ahmed, P. Devkumar, Sana’ Ulla, and many more, who are trying hard to inculcate the ethos of such an important tradition in their children.