If you ask Rajesh Kumar Ahlawat what his daughter Simran could have become if not a wrestler? He has quite a few options to answer. She could have been a gymnast, a badminton player or an actor. But Rajesh is happy that he decided to make her a wrestler.
After trying her hands at gymnastics and badminton, Simran was introduced to wrestling five years ago. And on Saturday, she became only the second female wrestler from India to win a medal at Youth Olympics, capturing the silver medal in the 43kg weight category in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“I was a wrestler and after failing to make her a gymnast or a badminton player, I thought she should be a wrestler. We have no control over the other two games. They were new to me but wrestling is my game and I am happy with the result now,” Rajesh says.
Simran dominated the field in Buenos Aires and gave little away. She moved past opponents from New Zealand, Moldova, Egypt and Mongolia to top her group and reach the finals where she faced cadet world champion Emily Shilson of USA and lost 6-11.
“She was called passive and cautioned I think. The referee asked her to be in a par terre position and the USA wrestler completed three gut wrenches. So it became difficult for Simran. But I confident she can improve from here,” he says.
Training at the Tej Singh Akhara since four years, the Khelo India School Games champion has taken rapid strides for a wrestler just five years into the sport. She is one of India’s most successful wrestler at the cadet level being a two-time defending Asian champion and a bronze medallist at the World championships last year.
Tryst with Bollywood
Despite winning medals at the world level, her first moment of fame came from Bollywood. The 17-year-old was cast in 2016 film Sultan, as a trainee of lead character Anushka Sharma. She was picked through an audition in Chandiram Akhara. And earlier this year, she was part of a music video by Mamta Chaudhary “Haryana ke sher”.
Such offers, Rajesh says, keep coming for her but she goes to shoot only a couple of them that too in off season.
“She got a few offers to act in videos and movies as well. But these are only in off season. Like someone approaches the akhada and they tell us so it’s okay. If she has to do something related to wrestling, it becomes very easy. But I don’t want her to lose track,” he says.
Worried that she may lose focus or stray from the sport, Rajesh travels with Simran wherever possible. He stays in Lucknow on rent when the national camp is conducted and travels to competitions.
“I don’t want her to think that her family is not doing enough. We want her to feel good always. I rent a room when I am in Lucknow and we travel to all competitions. I do not want her to change any sport now. Wrestling is something which has given her so much now,” he says.
Long way to go
Rajesh knows that his daughter isn’t a prodigy and there is still a lot of work to do. But he has left that to the akhada where Ekta has been coaching Simran for the last four years. Earlier, her husband Ricky used to coach as well but he died last year due to “heart failure” after practice.
“She works a lot on the mat. After every practice session she will try to do an extra set of all techniques. As a student she is very excited to wrestle and works hard on her double leg attack and defence. This medal is her biggest achievement at cadet level and from here she should only grow in the right direction,” Ekta says.
Even Ekta and the wrestlers at the Tej Singh akhara credit Rajesh for Simran’s success.
“He goes everywhere with her. It’s like wrestlers dedication plus his dedication. Pehelwanji has left nothing to destiny. Like Amir Khan in movie Dangal, same way. Though, he is not that strict but disciplined and always pushing his daughter,” Yudhister, a senior wrestler at the akhada, says.
But Rajesh may not have imagined this when he first came to Delhi from Jhajjar, Haryana. Or not when he fought with judges at the Delhi state gymnastics championships after a result he felt was biased.
“The scoring system in gymnastics is not transparent. I saw videos of Simran and she was better than the girl who was first so I fought with the judges. Then in badminton, the coaches did not allow me to see her train. The draws will be so bad that I decided to stop sending her there as well. I fought there as well. I didn’t fight when she acted. I won’t fight with anyone if she continues wrestling,” he says.
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