Kabaddi by Nature traces the journey of India's true sport 'Kabaddi'

Updated: 24 November, 2018 11:48 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

A new book chronicles a shot in the arm for kabaddi, a truly 'Indian' sport, unlike cricket

A match being played in an earlier era
A match being played in an earlier era

There is an important fragment of history lying within Maharashtra that underscores how kabaddi - a sport that urban Indians still stick up their noses at - was linked spiritually with the country's Independence movement.

It's kept in a drawer in the rustic office of Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal (HVPM) in Amravati near Nagpur. Founded in 1914, HVPM is a club that played an important part in the freedom struggle, organising marches where its members - under the guise of showcasing traditional Indian sports like kabaddi and mallakhamb - spread anti-colonial propaganda.

A Pro Kabaddi League match in progress
A Pro Kabaddi League match in progress

And it was this club that was also instrumental in sending an Indian contingent to the Berlin Olympics, or 'Nazi Olympics', in 1936, where they received a medal in recognition of their contribution. But more than that, they were afforded - at his own instructions - an audience with a man who would later go down as one of the most despised dictators in modern human history.

So, why is it that when even somebody as difficult to impress as Adolf Hitler was taken in by the skills required to master this truly indigenous Indian sport, city slickers in the country still pooh-pooh it as a game meant for the hinterland? This is the question at the heart of Kabaddi by Nature (Palimpsest), a new book that chronicles how the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) has breathed new life into an ancient tradition. It's written by Vivek Chaudhary, a UK-based veteran sports journalist. Edited excerpts of an email interview with him.

"Hitler’s medal", given to the Indian contingent at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Pics Courtesy/Palimpsest
"Hitler’s medal", given to the Indian contingent at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Pics Courtesy/Palimpsest

How would you summarise kabaddi's link with the fabric of rural Indian society?
Kabaddi is more than just a sport, and nowhere is this truer than within rural India. It is the sport of the masses, of the common man and woman, and this is something that kabaddi should be proud of. It is used to celebrate festivals, religious occasions and important dates in the farming calender. But kabbadi's link to India extends beyond the rural areas. It is enmeshed in India's spiritual traditions, her freedom struggle and exists in the fabric of the nation. It doesn't matter if you like kabaddi or not; if you are Indian you will have some kind of connection with the sport. Over the years, attention has been focused on kabaddi as the game of rural folk. In my book, I explore kabaddi's connections to India as a whole over hundreds of years.

Highlight a couple of bits of trivia from Kabaddi by Nature that you chanced upon during your research.
Mahatma Gandhi saw kabaddi being played during his untouchability tour, prompting him to write an article on the benefits of sport - one of the few occasions he had something to say on the subject.

Before the launch of the PKL, Uday Shankar, Star TV's boss, gave Rupert Murdoch and his son James [who own the Star network] an explanation of how kabaddi is played [leaving them scratching their heads].

Vivek Chaudhary
Vivek Chaudhary

In what health do you think kabaddi is in the 21st century? What effect has the PKL had on the sport within and outside India?
Kabaddi is enjoying a purple patch currently. The PKL has introduced a new era of professionalism. Some players are earning high salaries, enjoy social media followings and are at last being given the recognition and respect they deserve. Away from playing, things are a bit messy within the governing body, but that's not new within kabaddi or any other sport. Outside India, the PKL is broadcast in many countries, which has helped raise the sport's profile. Within India, the organisers want to reposition kabaddi as an urban, aspirational sport for millennials. As long as this is not achieved at the cost of the loyal, rural fan base, I'm convinced that kabaddi has a very bright future.

You've been a sports journalist for decades. Tell us about some experiences that you never had the chance to publish.
I sat next to Brian Lara on a plane while covering a West Indies tour. Each time I tried to strike up a conversation with him, he completely ignored me. I once went to meet a friend at a local cricket club near my home in London. I saw a man and boy playing in the nets and as I got closer, [I realised] it was Sachin Tendulkar and his son.

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First Published: 24 November, 2018 10:24 IST

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