Grand Trunk Road

Wrestling In Kanpur

NPR Correspondent Phil Reeves, Producer Nishant Dahiya and photographer Kainaz Amaria were travelling on India’s Grand Trunk Road when they came across a wrestling academy in Kanpur. Phil Reeves brings us this postcard:

There is nothing unusual about being 17 and angry. But Arjun Kumar Thakur has found a novel form of anger management.

Every evening, and early mornings, too, Arjun works out in an outdoor gym on the banks of the Ganges — the Ganga, as it's known in India.

  • Arjun Kumar Thakur, 17, comes to the school whenever he finds time. He is heartsick over a recent breakup with a girlfriend; their families disapproved of their relationship. "I have been betrayed one too many times in love. So I'm going to listen to my parents and have them decide who I marry," he said.
    Hide caption
    Arjun Kumar Thakur, 17, comes to the school whenever he finds time. He is heartsick over a recent breakup with a girlfriend; their families disapproved of their relationship. "I have been betrayed one too many times in love. So I'm going to listen to my parents and have them decide who I marry," he said.
    All photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR/Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • Suraj Chaurasiya (top) runs the wrestling academy. He doesn't charge his students any money. He relies on donations and whatever people leave behind. Here, he trains a young student in the wrestling pit.
    Hide caption
    Suraj Chaurasiya (top) runs the wrestling academy. He doesn't charge his students any money. He relies on donations and whatever people leave behind. Here, he trains a young student in the wrestling pit.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • The equipment at the school is crude, but for some young men, it's the only access they have to proper weights and a formal exercise routine.
    Hide caption
    The equipment at the school is crude, but for some young men, it's the only access they have to proper weights and a formal exercise routine.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • Suraj Chaurasiya rubs the arm of his guru, whom he credits with teaching him everything he knows.
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    Suraj Chaurasiya rubs the arm of his guru, whom he credits with teaching him everything he knows.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • Suraj says many wrestlers he has trained now travel regionally and nationally, earning enough money to make a decent living.
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    Suraj says many wrestlers he has trained now travel regionally and nationally, earning enough money to make a decent living.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • Wrestling in this form is quite popular in India. It requires no infrastructure, just a loincloth, and the rules are fairly simple.
    Hide caption
    Wrestling in this form is quite popular in India. It requires no infrastructure, just a loincloth, and the rules are fairly simple.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • A student limbers up before a wrestling match.
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    A student limbers up before a wrestling match.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • A wrestler lifts a metal bar with a cement ball on each end, in place of regular free weights. The students work with makeshift equipment because of a lack of resources.
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    A wrestler lifts a metal bar with a cement ball on each end, in place of regular free weights. The students work with makeshift equipment because of a lack of resources.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR
  • The gym overlooks the Ganges in Kanpur. In addition to wrestling, Suraj teaches young men how to swim and also runs a river rescue unit, as there are many drownings in the nearby water.
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    The gym overlooks the Ganges in Kanpur. In addition to wrestling, Suraj teaches young men how to swim and also runs a river rescue unit, as there are many drownings in the nearby water.
    Photos by Kainaz Amaria for NPR

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He pumps iron next to an open sand pit where portly professional wrestlers train. Monkeys scamper back and forth. As evening falls, prayers begin at the nearby cluster of riverside temples, accompanied by bells, drums and chanting.

Argun is small and compact, with a mop of floppy hair. He is so muscle-bound that his friends tease him by comparing him with the iconic Bollywood action hero Salman Khan.

Arjun is angry because his parents have banned him from seeing his girlfriend. He says they are both very strict. Marriages are usually arranged in India, and the love of his young life happens to be the daughter of a friend of his father's.

Arjun says he is eager  to leave his hometown — the north Indian industrial city of Kanpur — to explore the wider world. He wants a job on India's railways. But before being considered for a position, he must pass an exam. Competition for railway jobs is intense. Arjun wants to be a ticket collector — a  job that, in this populous nation, attracts many thousands of applicants.

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