Everybody loves a good underdog story. Deep down, all of us want to believe that the lovable nerds will win the championship, the awkward girl with the thick braces will turn out to be a princess, and the angry young man with nothing but his Fists of Justice will defeat platoons of charging goondas, preferably while wearing fluorescent green pants and wooing the heroine on the side.
And there’s no underdog story like the story that plays out on the sports page of our newspapers every morning – the epic struggle between cricket, and every other sport in India squashed into one-paragraph reports at the bottom of the page. Which is why I was going to take the easy way out and hurl invectives at the ‘gentleman’s game’ for its ungentlemanly conduct in hogging the limelight and stealing focus from tennis and swimming and even hockey, our so-called national game (I assure you I never heard of this ‘hockey’ until I stumbled upon it while googling around for ‘sports in India’). No doubt, I would have joined the ranks of several scores of other such original thinkers in diverting still more attention to cricket while preaching exactly the opposite, but – tough break. At least it would save me from actually having to look up and focus my article on one of those icky sidelined sports that nobody cares about.
But that’s when the sound of children chanting ‘kabaddi’ accompanied by excited squeals reached me from the park behind my house. And I began to wonder if this back-alley sport of humble rustics too ever had the opportunity to be vanquished in the newspapers by cricket in full view of everyone. Until then, I had never heard of Kabaddi treading beyond the world of the akhadas and maidans, but as it turned out, there happens to be an All India Kabaddi Federation, an Asian Kabaddi Federation and – read and marvel – a World Kabaddi League, involving countries as culturally remote as Canada, Japan, England and the United States, and as similar as Bangladesh and Pakistan. I figured these were the places where Punjabis and Sikhs, the people most commonly associated with Kabaddi, had gone and settled and spread their enthusiasm for the game. But that still doesn’t explain Japan!
If there is yet any proof left to be given that Kabaddi is now an international game, allow me to submit as evidence the fact that the British Army now apparently trains its recruits in agility and fitness by making them play Kabaddi. And the Asian Games has included the sport since 1990, and has now made it a part of the Asian Indoor Games, Asian Beach Games, and the South Asian Federation.
If Wikipedia’s take on Kabaddi is any indication, the list of skills required to be a Kabaddi player is extensive enough to put a hybrid of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris to shame. The game requires stamina, agility, muscular coordination, quick responses and presence of mind – in short, a complete mastery of the skills of battle. Also, Kabaddi is perhaps the only combative sport in which attack is an individual attempt while defense is a group effort. For a single player to take on seven opponents requires a great deal of daring, as well as an ability to concentrate and anticipate the opponent’s moves. And if all this appears to bear an uncanny resemblance to the skills of a good soldier, that’s because the game is supposed to have originated during pre-historic training for warfare. In fact, the Mahabharata likens the sticky situation faced by Abhimanyu, heir of the Pandavas, when he was surrounded from all sides by the enemy during the battle of Kurukshetra, to the situation of the lone player up against the entire opposite team in a game of Kabaddi.
Along with all these, of course, is the requirement of a good lung capacity, because the single raiding player needs to hold his breath during the course of the entire raid. If you plan to try the game, the key is to start off playing with someone as inexperienced as you are. Starting with friends unused to holding their breath is a good idea – it should lead to some interesting results (remember to take an oxygen pump).
While researching Kabaddi, I slowly realized that the game has some unexpected benefits. Predictably, it’s been useful in establishing peace – this time between the Indian and Pakistani communities living in the UK. But did you know that it’s also a good application of Yoga? The practice of the raider holding his breath chanting ‘Kabaddi’ is closely related to the practice of ‘Pranayama’. So Kabaddi is possibly the only sport to combine yoga with hectic physical activity, working on the inner organs as well as the outer body.
And speaking of outer body, there’s no game like Kabaddi to turn you into a caricature of the Hulk (albeit of a less grassy hue). I had some intensely pleasurable moments studying the pictures of the bodies of famous Kabaddi players – let’s just say they’re a far cry from the skinny/paunchy luminaries of cricket. So playing Kabaddi is sure to help you work on your pectorals and build up ab #3 or 13 or whichever number you might currently be thinking of torturing. Oh, and apparently historical records note that princes of yore played Kabaddi to display their strength and win their brides. There you go. You can now use Kabaddi to flirt with that pretty young thing you’ve been eyeing for some time. Undoubtedly the Kabaddi princes were well-stocked in biceps and triceps and other such upper-body paraphernalia.
History also reveals that Gautam Buddha, founder of Buddhism and all around nice-guy played Kabaddi for recreation. Presumably, it helped him take a break from meditating, and furnished him with the focus to gain nirvana.
So Kabaddi is basically your one-stop shop for all your body and soul needs. I can’t think why some enterprising industrialist from the US of A hasn’t picked it up and packaged it for Wal-Mart yet. I fear the day will soon come when Kabaddi will be squirreled away from under our noses and patented. At any rate, let’s just enjoy it while we can.