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India: In gentrifying village, any boy can mud wrestle mano a mano

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Mary Knox Merrill/staff

(Read caption) Two boys face off in a wrestling match in Nakhrola, India.

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NAKHROLA, INDIA – Two young boys face off in their underwear, with furrowed brows and bare feet balancing in furrows of fresh-tilled earth.

The spaces for equality in India are small. In this case, several thousand square feet of dirt in a farm field. Here, the boys of Nakhrola ages 6 to 25 can compete mano a mano in wrestling matches.

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“Village children don’t have exposure to other sports activities. This is the only one that anyone [from] any financial background can play,” says Surya Dev Yadav, a local lawyer and wrestling referee. “It just depends on the personal effort they put in.”

Such a straightforward formula for success isn’t always clear for the adults in Nakhrola, a village upended by dizzying changes. The nearby capital of Delhi is pushing out into Nakhrola. The government is buying land to create industrial parks, and commuters working for multinational firms in the high-rise towers of Gurgaon are moving in. Prices have shot up for land and for daily essentials, creating overnight winners and losers.

“There are people who sell land for 32 crores [$6.8 million], and there are people who don’t have any land to sell,” says Om Prakash, a local bank worker. Even with the wealth of some, the school has no infrastructure for sports – not even a basic gymnasium for wrestling, according to Mr. Yadav. Instead, a tractor is used to soften up a field, and the boys get down in the dirt.

The sport’s simplicity makes it one of the few where many schools can compete against one another, with state and national tournaments, too.

Scores of spectators ooh and ahh as the boys spar, dressed in langots (a diaperlike loincloth). At one point, Yadav gets entangled with the wrestlers and hits the dirt, turning his white salwar kameez (a long tunic with baggy pants) brown.