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Guru Hanuman
'Death is beckoning me'

He is India's best known wrestling guru. Anyone who has brought laurels for India in wrestling must have kicked dust in Guru Hanuman's akhada. Such was his training, diligence and passion for the sport.

"D eath is beckoning me, I only wish to bring wrestling into the limelight so that I can go peacefully from this world." With age catching up, Guru Hanuman, 99, would often talk of death, but nobody expected death to come unannounced.

Guru Hanuman, the father of Indian wrestling, died in a car crash on May 24 morning. He was on his way to Hardwar to take a dip in the holy Ganges. With his death Indian wrestling has been left orphaned and his long cherished dream of bringing wrestling into the limelight remains unfulfilled.

"An era of Indian wrestling which began with Guruji has ended and the sports has suffered a severe |blow with his death," says a moist-eyed Ram Swaroop, the first wrestler from Guru Hanuman's akhada, who represented the country in the 1956 Olympics held in Melbourne, Australia. .

Born in 1901 as Vijay Pal in Chidawa village in Rajasthan, he came to Delhi in 1919 to set up a fruit shop near Birla Mills in Subzi Mundi. But fate willed otherwise. Vijay Pal turned a wrestler and attained much popularity in the field. With the help of the Birlas, he established the akhada in 1925 near Roshanara Park in north Delhi and it soon became the epicentre of Indian wrestling. .

An ardent follower of Hanuman, he chose to be identified with the name of his favourite deity. Vijay Pal became Guru Hanuman and he changed the face of Indian wrestling forever. Anyone who has brought laurels for India in wrestling must have kicked dust in Guru Hanuman's akhada. Such was his training, diligence and passion for the sport.

His efforts did not go in vain. He burst on the international scene when three of his proteges - Sudesh Kumar, Prem Nath and Ved Prakash - won wrestling gold medals at the Cardiff Commonwealth Games in the early 70s. Among his other famous disciples, Satpal and Kartar Singh also won Asian Games gold in 1982 and 1986, respectively. .

His contribution to wrestling was recognised by the government when it conferred the Padma Shree on him in 1983. In 1991 he was honoured with the prestigious Dronacharya award. .

Guru Hanuman is also credited with infusing the modern techniques of wrestling into the rustic sport. Such was his passion for wrestling that he once went on a hunger strike to force Margaret Alva, the then Minister for Sports, to donate a wrestling mat to his akhada. Later in 1977 he again went on hunger strike to champion the cause of Sanjay who was denied the Arjuna award. .

As a teacher Guru Hanuman was respected and feared by his disciples. A strict disciplinarian he would often hit the wrongdoers with stick, even using his slippers once in a while. "But this was more than compensated by the love he showered on us," says Ved Prakash, gold medalist in 1970 Commonwealth Games, and at 13 a Guinness Record holder for being the youngest sportsperson to have won the medal.

Though of late he was not coaching directly he continued to keep an eye on all his disciples. An early-riser, Guru Hanuman would exercise for an hour with dumb-bells and often cycle down to buy vegetables and cook himself a meal. His day began at 3 am and his disciples were expected to follow his decree religiously. Those who woke up late were often caned.

"I am married to wrestling. I am so involved with it that I feel marriage will be a hindrance," he had once said. A bachelor he did make front-page news recently when he said he would marry at 100. "When I turn 100 I will marry the Paris grandmother, I will sit in a doli while she will come on a horse," he had said, while referring to the oldest woman in the world from France, who also died recently. .

Guru Hanuman is no more. He did not turn 100, nor did he marry. But what he did for Indian wrestling shall be carried forward by the matmen who were trained under his tutelage. .

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