Enter the dangal: Haryana's girls are bringing home the laurels in the sport of wrestling
When Sakshi Malik clinched the bronze at the 2016 Summer Olympics, effectively ending India's medal drought, it marked a high point in the 23-year-old wrestler's journey from her hometown of Rohtak, to Rio, where the Games were being held.
At the same event, another medal hopeful — Vinesh Phogat — saw her Olympic dreams crashing after suffering a dislocated knee during her bout against China's Sun Yanan.
Vinesh is the cousin of Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari, both India's leading women wrestlers.
For the Phogat girls, and for Sakshi Malik, stepping into the akhara — a traditionally male-dominated space — is already a major win.
The story of the Phogat girls, as is well known by now, forms the basis of Aamir Khan's upcoming film Dangal. Khan plays the patriarch Mahavir Singh Phogat, who trained his six girls (four daughters — Geeta, Babita, Ritu, Sangeeta, and nieces Vinesh and Priyanka, whom he adopted after his brother's death) to excel at wrestling.
The Phogat story, and the story of women's wrestling in Haryana — and how it has grown in the face of opposition from naysayers who believe the sport is meant only for men — has been explored in detail by journalist Rudraneil Sengupta in his book, Enter The Dangal.
He provides a firsthand account of the akhara in Balali, Haryana, where the Phogat girls train; the change in public perception as they've won medals for India at international sporting events, and how that has brought more women into the sport.
How have Haryana's girls managed to come so far in the sport? How have they wrestled their way to the top?
Read on to find out:
Extracted with permission from HarperCollins