Dubai: Pakistanis & Indians make ‘kushti’ their way of life

Every Friday evening in Dubai’s bustling Deira district, a sandy lot is transformed into the ring of champions. Most are Pakistani or Indian, from the cross-border region of Punjab, where kushti is a beloved pastime. They are also a pillar of the United Arab Emirates’ workforce.

The wrestlers unabashedly strip down to their underwear, donning yellow, red, or even floral-patterned loincloths.

Glaring, the opponents swipe one another’s bodies with sand – a reciprocal move to counter sweat. The day’s matches are quick – sometimes under a minute – and hard fought.

A foot is trapped between a rival’s legs, a fighter flips over his opponent’s shoulders to escape his grip. One pins his match down on his stomach and throws sand in his face before getting restrained by the referees.

Spectators dart into the ring to film fights. Others watch in rapture, breaking out in cheers at decisive moments in the match.

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The winner is declared when a fighter manages to pin his opponent to the ground on his back. If the fight starts going over 20 minutes, the referees declare a tie.

On this evening, Kala Pehlwan finds himself overpowered – and faced with a challenge.

Kala Pehlwan, 26, huddled with friends and came up with a plan. They would find a challenger – not from Dubai, but from their hometown of Muzaffargarh in the Punjab region of Pakistan.

Within days, they had gathered the money, throwing in 50-100 Dirhams each to pay for a plane ticket.

Kala Pehlwan says kushti is a way of life back in Muzaffargarh.

“In our town, it’s a tradition to learn wrestling. Everybody grows up on kushti. They do not have bad habits like cigarettes or drugs. Everyone is trying to be fit for a fight.”

Kala Pehlwan – whose real name is Mohammed Arsalan – took his nom de guerre from a hometown legend who shares his fighting style.

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He says a proper diet, coach and training are key to success. Eating right is his biggest challenge in an expensive metropolis.

Iqbal wrestled for more than two decades in Dubai before passing the torch to the next generation, whom he takes the time to train each evening before work.

“The (authorities) say arranging fights like this is better than fighting in anger where you live or at your workplace,” said Iqbal.

Kala Pehlwan says he can earn 500-600 Dirhams ($135-$165) on a good night – the money collected in a plastic bag by the referee and champion – but kushti is not about money.

When Friday night comes around again, it’s the visiting challenger Shahzad who wins.

 

 

Source Credit: AFP

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