It is New Year with a difference for a group of German youngsters, who have been in Mumbai through the Christmas week to learn advanced Mallakhamb, from noted coach Uday Deshpande, of the Samarth Vyayam Mandir at Shivaji Park. The eight girls and three boys are between 12 and 21 years old.
This is an Indo-German collaboration, that goes beyond Mallakhamb. The Germans are getting a complete cultural experience.
They are living with families in the Dadar-Mahim area, imbibing family culture. They also learn Hindi, Bharatnatyam, rangoli drawing and Warli art, in addition to Mallakhamb.
The team of 11 at their best. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Coach Uday Deshpande says of a rigourous training schedule, “They train from 10:30 am to 8 pm daily, with breaks for lunch and tea.” Seeing them practice was a lesson in agility and strength. The Germans showed prowess in both, the rope and the pole Mallakhamb. Quite a crowd had collected to watch them practice. One can only see that swell today evening as they give a Mallakhamb demonstration which is open to the public at Shivaji Park. They are also going to be performing at the International Ayurveda Congress in Pune on January 4.
Uday Deshpande’s German students show off their Mallakhamb moves
This is Ruth Anzenberger’s (21) fifth visit to India. She has been practising Mallakhamb since she was eight. She says, “I learnt about Mallakhamb at a workshop of Deshpande Sir’s. My mother was an organiser for the event. I took to the sport like a duck to water; I would practice daily and send sir pictures and he would advise me what to do to improve. I have a rope hanging from the ceiling in my bedroom. I use it for Mallakhamb practice.”
Germans learn the great Indian rope trick
Yana Jolliffe learnt about Mallakhamb from Azenberger. She says, “Many of my fellow students have their parents paying for the trip. I worked four jobs to earn money for this trip. My parents pitched in the remaining amount. Indian culture has always enthralled me. Living with an Indian family is a lovely experience.”
Strength and balance were key for the youngsters
Sebastian Krimmer, another practitioner says, “I think Mallakhamb should be an Olympic sport. It has all the requirements needed.”
The Indian experience is exciting for Rosalie Franzl, (12) who is in the country for the first time. She says, “People here are warm and talk a lot. I love Indian food; it is as though I am in a home away from home. I enjoyed learning Bharatnatyam, the dance was very different from our German dances.”
Learning Hindi and how to write his name in the language is proving to be a task, for her twin, Luis.
He says, “I am learning to write my name in Hindi and when I go back to Germany, I will be the only one in my class who is able to do that. I loved the rangoli class as I was able to draw in a new way and at the same time since I was drawing on paper, if I did not like the design, I was able to chuck that and start anew!”
Luca Rothbauer (13) finds Mumbai much louder than Munich. He says, “The city has a unique sound. Initially, I found it annoying, but now over the days I have grown to love it. Deshpande Sir has some different ropes here, learning Mallakhamb in the country of its origin has a special feel to it.”
The Germans celebrated New Year’s by shopping in Dadar and then, in an open deck bus for Mumbai darshan. They rounded that off by meeting students of Kamala Mehta School for the Blind. They had dinner with them, and shared Mallakhamb tips. The blind too, learn Mallakhamb from Deshpande.
“Celebrating New Year’s in India was a nice experience. In Germany, everything is very lit up and Christmassy. Mumbai has not been so. Yet, the difference was refreshing. It has been a nice start in a new country for all of us,” adds Krimmer.
They say that back in Germany, it will be tough explaining to their friends about Mallakhamb, and explaining what exactly the sport is all about. “I was confused whether to compare it to gymnastics with a rope and pole. Now, I have a solution. I tell my friends back home, that Mallakhamb is yoga on a pole or a rope. That intrigues them and there is some interest, which is growing,” ends Anzenberger.
Today, German grit meets desi flair, in this indigenous sport, which is crossing continents and cultures. Bend it like Beckham, or German, like they say.
Watch them today
4 pm to 5 pm: Mallakhamb demonstration outside Samarth Vyayam Mandir, Shivaji Park. Entry is free and open to public.