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Mallakhamb - Rope of courage

Mallakhamb is a source of strength and a personality changer for the visually-challenged students of a Dadar school

For the students of Kamala Mehta School for the Blind, 9 am on Wednesdays and Fridays is Mallakhamb time. Twenty-four girls at the Dadar school walk to the second floor gymnasium to learn the art from Mumbai’s renowned instructor Uday Deshpande.

exercises
Upside down: Rope Mallakhamb is now a source of strength for the students at Kamala Mehta School for the Blind

Balance and determination
While sighted individuals are shown a demonstration of the Mallakhamb exercise, visually-challenged people need to be verbally explained in detail, the technicalities of Mallakhamb. Deshpande says, “When I first started teaching visually-challenged children back in 1992, I was a little apprehensive as I needed to verbalise all the instruction. But one thing that I realised as I started coaching them was that they were not afraid. Sighted people tend to get jitters seeing the eight feet rope but these students do not. They cannot see and so the fear of being suspended from a height is something they do not comprehend, so teaching them becomes much easier.”

visually-challenged students
LISTENING ATTENTIVELY: Hearing how to do the exercises is crucial for these visually-challenged students

As the class progresses the students do warm up exercises which includes some jumping and stretching. After that, they start practicing their rope gymnastics. The girls are a mix of new learners and those with five to eight years of Mallakhamb training. They are all seated in two rows as they listen attentively to their coach who tells them the moves they will learn during the hour long class from 9 am to 10 am.

Rope Mallakhamb
Upside down: Rope Mallakhamb is now a source of strength for the students at Kamala Mehta School for the Blind

For Vishaka Singh, the two days that she has Mallakhamb class at school are the best days. She says, “I love Wednesdays and Fridays as I get to show off my flexibility by doing Rope Mallakhamb. I have been practicing the gymnastic form for the last three years. When I started, yes I was a little apprehensive but now I have become more confident and can do many asanas (moves) with ease.”

Confidence booster
Bharti Velosay, school warden who also supervises the Mallakhamb activity says, “The stamina of the students has increased by leaps and bounds after they enrolled for Mallakhamb. Their memory too has improved significantly and when it comes to their lessons, the students who practice Mallakhamb are doing much better academically.”

The teachers at the school select students who are flexible and do not have any physical deformity in addition to their blindness. Nikita Patel, a teacher at the school says, “I have seen a total personality change in the students thanks to Mallakhamb. Students who were reserved and lacked self-confidence with their ability to perform Rope Mallakhamb have become more attentive in class and their marks have also improved considerably.”

Shaheen Ismail who can do Padmasan at a height of six feet while suspended on the rope says, “I started doing Mallakhamb 10 years ago. I was never scared; I felt the rope and then followed the instruction given by Uday Sir. When I performed Mallakhamb for the first time at our school social, my parents were so proud; their happiness that day is something I will cherish forever.”

Top of the world
For a first time learner Sushma Kandole was quick to use her toes to grasp the rope and climb. With help from Deshpande, the seven-year-old even did a Mallakhamb exercise. Talking about the sport she says, “One of my friends told me how exciting Mallakhamb is. I told my class teacher that I wanted to join the class from this year. When I walked into the class, I was a little apprehensive but once I held the rope in my hand I just followed what Uday Sir was saying and climbed up.”

“The rope used by the visually-challenged girls here is the same that sighted people use to perform Rope Mallakhamb. The girls are really excited and eager to learn which as a teacher is always good to see. All of them are enthusiastic and fearless which is an added plus,” says Deshpande who also trains aspiring Mallakhamb performers at Shree Samartha Vyayam Mandir at Shivaji Park.

After the class ends the students salute and chant their school slogan as they line up and head back to class. Few of them as they leave tell Deshpande, “We just can’t wait for the next class when we will learn some more Mallakhamb moves. The sport is slowly becoming our favourite.”

More about Mallakhamb

>> A traditional Indian sport in which a gymnast performs feats and poses in concert with a vertical wooden pole or rope.
>> Derives its name from the terms malla which denotes a wrestler and khamba which means a pole. Mallakhamb can therefore be translated into English as ‘pole gymnastics’.

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