Rohtak: Flustered with the presence of so many unknown people in the living room of her formidable house in the tiny Sector 4 neighbourhood, Sudesh Malik is visibly tired, obliging the sudden barrage of politicians, neighbours, relatives, well-wishers and the media alike. She has been anxious from Wednesday evening, and hasn’t slept or eaten much since. It is the endless cups of tea that is keeping her going, says her husband Sukhbir Singh.
“Funnily, it was the wrestling costume that attracted her to the game,” says Sudesh, recalling the time she took Sakshi to the nearby Chotu Ram Wrestling Academy to zero in on a game. In school, Sakshi had seen several children play, and wanted to take up a sport but did not know which one. Sudesh had then taken her on a round of several training centres. Sakshi’s eyes fell on the wrestling costume and she had decided that was it.
Elders in Mokhra village, where her father grew up, advised Sukhbir to not let her train in wrestling as it may dampen her chances of getting married. Sukhbir says he’s happy that he did not listen to them.
Sukhbir’s brother, who Sakshi is very close to, says that perhaps it was in her genes to do well in wrestling. “My father was a well-known pehelwan in the Mokhra akhada,” he says, recalling with praise how dedicated Sakshi was. “She would get up at five in the morning, head to school, and then go to train. No one ever needed to tell her what to do,” he says.
Months after she was born, Sakshi’s mother got a job in the state women and child development department in Hathin in Mewat. From the time she was three months to when she was about six, Sakshi was raised by her grandmother.
“When she clinched the gold in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and after she had secured a score of 70% in masters of physical education, I asked her to study further. She looked at me and said, ‘Let me make a mark in the Olympics first’. Her 12-year-old dream has finally come true today,” says her uncle.
Sakshi’s cousins, Sonia and Sweety, remember her as a docile girl who was obsessed with the sport. She missed all the family weddings barring Sonia’s as she was nursing an injured foot then. “She reached here a day before her own brother’s wedding, and left two days later. Her discipline is unmatched,” said Sonia.
Her coach, Mandeep, who has been helping her hone her wrestling skills since 2010, says that it is the ‘double leg’ technique that helped her in the Olympic bouts. It is a move where one tries to displace the opponent’s legs. “She perfected the move after months of training. She also attacks from all sides, and it helps,” says Kuldeep.
Sukhbir, whose face lights up when one mentions Sakshi, said that he had gifted her a Volkswagen Polo when she clinched a gold in the Commonwealth Games in 2014. He now has a simple regret. When she was about to qualify for the Olympics, Sakshi had seen a watch at a nearby mall that cost Rs 1.1 lakh and asked her father for it. “I went to buy it the day she qualified, but it was gone,” he says.
Moments after she won the match, Sakshi called her father: “I got you a medal, you better keep your promise.”