Originally published in the New Indian Express, Bangalore - August 2008
Wodeyars and wrestling are synonymous with the city of Mysore. Hence we wemt looking for the famous centers of Nada Kusti in Mysore and we found them at six in the morning as Ashoka Road is rubbing sleep off its eyes. The chaiwala handing out tea and newspaper from his little 'hole-in-the-wall' shop to first shift autowallas, the scrap dealer weighing junk on rusty weighing scales, the milkman having set up his makeshift retail point where the narrow inside gullies meet; uneven gullies lined with antiquated houses and curious onlookers. We are there to meet Pehalwan Chhota Rafiq at his hundred-year-old kushti akhara, called a guaradi in Mysore.
We are led to an ordinary looking building -- low on maintenance, with broken tinted glass, stained white walls and chipped off paint, announcing over the entrance door 'Mohammad Khan Divan Khan Taleem' in Urdu. It doesn't seem a century old, that is until we are ushered in by our host. A low voltage tube light barely manages to light up the inside till the sun takes over -- the thin layer of dark red mud, the rusted traditional 'stone n steel' weights alongside dumbbells and other modern equipment, and walls smeared with red mud and sweat. A young brigade of wrestlers have lined up ritualistically for their morning bouts of Nada Kusti, their lean bodies covered with a minimal saffron loincloth. The practice began.
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