'Dangal': Here's an excerpt from Mahavir Singh Phogat biography that inspired Aamir Khan
Saurabh Duggal's biography of Mahavir Singh Phogat chronicles the life of the patriarch who gave India its first generation of women wrestlers, and inspired Aamir Khan
Aamir Khan with Mahavir Singh Phogat
He [Mahavir] explains, ‘Our society is not liberal even today, but I am strictly against gender discrimination. That’s the main reason I introduced all my daughters and nieces to wrestling, despite the many reservations expressed within my own family and by other villagers. But, in the case of Geeta’s mother winning the sarpanch elections, she didn’t know much about the village’s politics and was never interested in contesting. But since the seat was reserved for women that year, I thought she should fight the elections.’
The Phogat sisters and their coach display their spoils
Speaking about calling the shots during his wife’s five-year tenure as sarpanch, he adds with a smile, ‘Her presence was limited to signing official documents, as her title as the sarpanch made her the signing authority. But as she had no interest in the village politics, all the decisions were taken by me.’
At the time Mahavir had three daughters, Geeta, Babita and Ritu (who was born in 1994), and was not eligible to contest. But he got his youngest brother, Sajjan — who had quit his government job and settled in the village — to contest. Yet again, his support proved to be the lucky charm and Sajjan won the seat.
‘Becoming a sarpanch was never in my destiny. After Sajjan’s tenure was over, the seat was reserved for Scheduled Castes and then, in 2010, it was again reserved for women. Geeta’s mother became the sarpanch for a second time in 2010 and after that I dropped the idea of contesting elections. This time, my nephew and distant relative Amit Kumar became sarpanch. I guess I was never meant to sign government documents as sarpanch,’ laughs Mahavir.
His wife Daya, however, has a different take on the matter. ‘The first time I contested the sarpanch elections, people voted for me just because I am Mahavir’s wife. But when I was made to contest for the second time, the achievements of my daughters were also a part of my profile.’
The villagers, especially the women, used to compliment her as Geeta and Babita had won medals in the 2010 Commonwealth Games just before the elections. ‘People thought the girls had made the entire village proud, so their mother would also contribute in the same manner in the development of the village. So the second time I won by an even bigger margin,’ says Daya Kaur. Soon after this, Mahavir, the some-time politician, turned his attention back to his favourite sport and evolved into a full-time wrestling coach.
‘My father is not one to accept defeat, be it for us or for himself. For him, only one medal matters, and that’s gold. So whenever we took on an opponent, there was no choice but to emerge victorious. Winning came with glory and appreciation and, most importantly, a reprieve from Papa’s fury,’ Babita intones.
‘Today, Papa is a lot calmer,’ Geeta chimes in. ‘But things were totally different before the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Winning bronze or silver was no reason to celebrate. It meant we did not win gold, which was unacceptable in his books and invited his rage.’
While still a minor, Babita got a chance to represent the country in the senior category at the World Wrestling Championship in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2007. Though she missed out on a podium finish, she made it to the quarter-finals — a decent performance keeping in mind that she was the youngest among her opponents. But this didn’t find any favour with her father, who had high expectations of her. To make matters worse, on her way back from Baku, Babita lost her passport at the airport. She approached the Indian embassy in Azerbaijan, which issued an official note allowing her to travel back to India. But, upon her return, when she applied for a new passport, she faced an unexpected roadblock: her application was rejected — not once but twice. Soon, a year had passed since she had competed internationally and there was still no sign of her application for a passport being approved.
The light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be diminishing, leaving her uncertain of her place in the sport. At their wits’ end, Babita and Mahavir had almost given up hope when someone advised Mahavir to alter the reason for the passport’s loss in the application form. He was told she should apply afresh for a tatkal (fast-track) passport and state that her first passport had been lost in Bhiwani (not in Azerbaijan).
With his daughter continuing to lose out on multiple opportunities to compete internationally, Mahavir found himself stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. As a villager, Mahavir had little knowledge of the online database for passports and considered that tweaking the facts about the passport’s loss was a better alternative to having another application rejected.
Excerpted with permission from Akhada: The Authorized Biography of Mahavir Singh Phogat (Hachette India) by Saurabh Duggal.
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