Sushil Kumar is currently wanted in the investigation of the murder of a young grappler named Sagar Dhankad.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics were special for India. For the first time, we had more than one individual medallist.
In fact, there were three of them.
The shooter Abhinav Bindra became India’s first individual gold-medalist. While most of India’s Olympic standouts come from humble backgrounds, Bindra was moneyed and urbane.
Vijender Singh got a bronze in boxing. He was from Bhiwani in the heartland, a background different from Bindra’s. But his face was of a man who was unlikely to be consigned to his hometown. Vijender also had acting and modelling aspirations, which meant mentally and physically he had one foot in the cities.
The third medalist was Sushil Kumar, the wrestler from Delhi, currently wanted in the investigation of the murder of a young grappler named Sagar Dhankad. There was an asterisk mark against the achievement as Sushil had lost his very first bout. But the man who defeated him reached the final, which meant that under the repechage rule, Sushil could compete for the bronze.
Once back in the mix, Sushil was sensational, of that there is no doubt. He won three bouts in 70 minutes. The bronze fight was a true Olympic moment. An Indian defeated a Kazakh (Leonid Spiridonov) in a contest refereed by a Frenchwoman (Regine Le Gleut).
Four years later in London, Sushil proved his quality by winning the silver without any crutches. He also won other important titles in his career, including the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
Unlike Vijender, Sushil’s was not the make-up of a man who wanted to scoot his hometown. He was happy where he was. And after the London Olympic success, he was the king of the hill.
It is interesting to see the subtle ways in which the world changes around a person post their success. Especially when that person is young. Showing deference to older people is easier. As Kader Khan once said, after the success of Amitabh Bachchan, everyone started calling him Amitji. Khan, though older than Bachchan, was expected to do the same. He did not. To him, he was still Amit. And that did not go down well in the film industry.
Similarly, Sushil too had to be shown respect, like it or not, even though he was not yet 30 (officially) when he made history in London.
Money and awards poured in. Sushil’s media habits became prima donna like. Give appointments, and then not show up. Referring to him by his name at Chhatrasal Stadium, his training base and throne, was not appreciated.
“Calling him by his name elicits frowns from those who revere him. ‘Pehalwanji’ is much better, thank you,” the journalist Mufeed Rizvi wrote in Mumbai Mirror after travelling north, in vain, to meet Sushil in 2018.
Rizvi finally met Sushil in Mumbai. “He appeared more subdued in Mumbai, and humble, too. Without his coterie and his context, Kumar was just another commoner,” he wrote. This showed where Sushil drew his strength from, and what his world was.
More worrying, however, were stories of Sushil’s status crossing over into intimidation, either by him or his sycophants. During his comeback at the 2017 Nationals, three opponents granted him walkovers.
It’s an open secret that wrestlers, boxers and the like often end up working as muscle, or muscle organisers, for thugs. This, coupled with instances of reported bullying by Sushil and his evasiveness with media raised suspicions about his nature and his activities. And now he is absconding.
News reports of Sushil’s career-paving bronze in Beijing praised his use of the high-risk kaichi daav
(leg scissor) technique. Now the kaichi daav
of his actions, willing or otherwise, have trapped Pehalwanji himself.