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The Cost of Money

I once saw a beautiful girl- of about 11. Light eyes in total contrast to her dark sun-burned skin. She had bleached golden brown unkempt hair and a petite figure. She was high up on a tight rope, balancing 3 pots on her head. A safety harness was conspicuous only by its absence. She looked afraid- not of falling, but of making a mistake. She would pay dearly for that.

Recently, I took a tour to a few of the smaller cities of Maharashtra- to conduct a hunt for a cricket commentator.

The first stop was Nasik. As we sat in the audition hall the night before the event, I was afraid that the next day would see the 200 seating capacity hall only half full. And we did. But none of us went back disappointed that day. Our victory wasn’t in numbers; it was in the talent and passion we encountered. There were more than a few girls who auditioned. They were either brave enough to venture into such a male dominated profession because they knew no fear or they were taken up by Mandira. I don’t know which it is, but they surprised us all. Next came 3 handicapped- or differently abled men. They stood out, not because of their handicap, but because it was obvious that their passion was comparable only to the hardships they endured on a daily basis. Then came a little boy- barely 12, and he was late. In the end, he was allowed to participate only thanks to his mother’s relentless persuasiveness. Since he was a ‘kid’ we didn’t have the heart to say no. As soon as he took the stage, he stunned us all. While he expounded cricket knowledge and treated us to fluent Shastri type commentary, flies took refuge in the hanging jaws of the judges.

The next stop was Aurangabad. The competition was tough at this audition- but not necessarily to be a commentator. We had people coming in to do imitations, magic and even sing a Powada- a kind of Marathi ballad that narrates a famous historic event.

It was in a philosophical mood that I set off for Kolhapur. I was quite sure however, that some spicy Kolhapuri mutton, pandra tambda and misal would cure me of that. We had some time to kill in Kolhapur, so we decided to visit Khasbaug Maidan, an ancient Kushti Akhada.

It was off season, all we saw was knee high grass and a few lone wrestlers warming up. The place still had a feel of reverence though, much like an abandoned temple. Kolhapur was the Mecca of Kushti. Before Independence, the royals of this flourishing city were patrons of the sport. The city had more budding Pahalwans than Mumbai had actors, it is said. The Talims were teaming with young cauliflower eared boys, who spent their days purely in the pursuit of mastering the sport. It wasn’t just a game, it was a lifestyle. To be a Pahalwan, you had to embrace the austere, celibate lifestyle, eat, sleep and train in the Talim. The Akhadas were well maintained and the Lal Maati was worshipped.

About a decade later, the city has a different tale to tell. Khashbaba Jadhav, a Kolhapuri wrestler won India its first independent Olympic gold medal at Helsinki. Unfortunately, his lot did not improve even after this feat. Neither fame nor money came his way, and even a decent job was hard to find.
The daily diet of a Pahalwan is rich, and therefore expensive. They refrain from consuming any non-natural food supplements and rely mainly of pure ghee, meat, veges, and fresh milk for their daily calorie requirement. They start their warm up with about 1000 dips, so I can only imagine the nutritional implications of such a hard life. The expenses run up to 5 lacs a month, and the pension they win from major tournaments is about Rs.1000 a month.

Economics defines underdevelopment by measuring the underutilization of available resources. The most important is the human resource- or wasted potential. We have so much to offer to the world- so much talent is untapped. Our greatest export is Bollywood, maybe to some extent chicken tikka masala.

It’s going to take so long for our street performers to turn into Olympic performers. It’s going to take so long for us to wake up and preserve ancient culture like Kushti. To pick up young talent from the innermost reaches of the country before the hardships of adult life make them forget how to dream.


  1. I could hug you right now...... You couldn't be more apt....
    Untapped, undiscovered or just simply not given its due...the talent in our country deserves way better...


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