Wrestlers I've known

Last Updated: Fri, Jul 13, 2012 19:00 hrs

For some strange reason, wrestlers and wrestling have been a leitmotif of my life. I was once engaged to a wrestling fan. This was in the days before WWF and cable TV. We used to go to the NSCI stadium in Mumbai to watch Dara Singh and his brother Randhawa take on a host of Indian and international rivals.

Two incidents that occurred on such visits stand out. The first was when we were present at one such big-ticket event where Maharashtra demagogue Bal Thackeray was officiating as chief guest.

Seated next to him and newly engaged, we mentioned the fact of our recent betrothal to the dour despot as polite conversation.

Imagine our horror when a few moments later we heard him announce it in his official speech to a heaving sweaty mass of bemused wrestling fans and wrestlers!

As wedding announcements go, it was hard to beat.

At the same stadium we faced a hairier situation. My partner had recently written a column on wresters full of ardour but with heavy strains of affectionate lampooning.

After all who could take the sight of humongous grunting men slamming each other to pulp seriously?

Sly and elegant, the article laughed at the whole phenomenon of commercial wrestling and our own suspension of belief even as it admired the spectacle.

Unfortunately that evening we learnt that irony is an attribute that wrestlers do not appreciate.

We were led to a tiny backstage room behind the ring after the match and a bunch of very angry wrestlers proceeded to read out bits of the article which, believe me, didn’t sound all that funny under those circumstances.

Note to self: don’t be in a room when people 14 sizes bigger than you are reading an article you wrote that pokes fun at them.

My next truck with wrestling came a few years later as a journalist when I wrote a profile of the British wrestling legend Giant Haystacks.

At 6.11 inches and weighing over 311 kilos, Haystacks was a sight to behold.

I interviewed him in his room at a hotel behind the Taj and then requested that he pose next to the Gateway of India, a short walk away.

But it was hot and sticky and a crowd was beginning to form as we began to walk, so I asked him to get in to my Maruti car (that dinky first model!). Have you ever seen a 6.11-inch wrestler in a Maruti car?

I did and it was not a pretty sight.

Fortunately the car survived, as did the phenomena of wrestling in my life.

Soon I became passionately fond of the novels of John Irving (The world According To Garp) and found to my great delight that Irving had been a wrestling coach.

That most of Irving’s novels had characters that were wrestlers or bears, or even wrestling bears strengthened my connection to his writing.

So I guess it was no coincidence that in the ‘90s I found myself mother to a young boy who, like every other little boy of his generation, was obsessed with WWF in general and Hulk Hogan in particular. And that the carnival of bizarre men in their fantastic costumes and their outrageous acts was a daily occurrence in our lives.

So I’d like to say goodbye to Dara Singh. You were the tallest in the ring and your corner will never be filled.

Goodbye and thank you.

Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer

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