When Ravi Dahiya returns to Chhatrasal Stadium in New Delhi, his only real home since 2010, as a newly minted Olympic silver medalist, he can expect a couple of concessions. The 23-year-old will have his photograph framed and mounted on the wall of the wrestling practice hall at Chhatrasal Stadium, along with the other World and Olympic medalists who have trained here, and his choice of food for a day - parathas and dahi. No other special treatment is expected to be handed out to India's second silver medalist of Tokyo at the finest wrestling finishing school in the country. Ravi will continue to share along with four room-mates, the tiny 50 square foot dorm, with a leaky roof, its other occupants joke will fall any moment.
"He isn't the first wrestler from Chhatrasal Stadium to have won an Olympic silver," smiles coach Lalit Kumar, who has worked at Chhatrasal and personally coached Ravi, over the last decade.
That would be Sushil Kumar who reached final of the 66kg division in 2012 following his bronze from 2008. The 37-year-old, undoubtedly one of India's Olympic greats, is at the bottom of perhaps the greatest troughs of his career - criminally accused in the murder of a young wrestler at Chhatrasal. Yet, at the stadium complex in North Delhi where he first came as a student nearly three decades ago, where he would later work as an administrator, his absence hung heavy during one of Chhatrasal Stadium's own greatest sporting moment.
Indeed, following the medal ceremony in Tokyo, when the trainees at Chhatrasal started to celebrate, they danced to the beat of dhols and pulsing Haryanvi music - including one song by folk singer Ankit Sheoran, extolling the virtues of Sushil and another that of his father-in-law and first coach Satpal.
Ravi has credited Sushil in the past too - he still has a framed picture of his in his home and is on record, crediting him with inspiring his bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships. In Tokyo following the bout though, perhaps with a mind on potential controversy, he was careful with his words admitting the role played by Sushil in inspiring his journey - "I went to the stadium after Sushil Kumar's medal (in 2008) They (Sushil and Yogeshwar Dutt) reached such a high level. I always wanted to learn something from them."
Yet, when it came to his preparations he would thank only Satpal.
His coaches and friends though don't hold back on the role Sushil played in shaping not just Dahiya but Indian wrestling. "Whatever Indian wrestling is today is because of pehelwanji" says Arun Dahiya, Ravi's senior, using the honorific everyone in Chhatrasal uses for Sushil.
"Pehelwanji took a personal interest in Ravi's development as a wrestler. During the lockdown (to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic), all the wrestlers were sent home. But he made sure Ravi could stay behind and continue to train. He not only got the best coach from Russia - Kamal Malikov, he also trained personally with Ravi to iron out flaws in his technique. He was so weak in his leg defence, but Pehelwanji made sure Ravi worked on them," says Lalit, who has served as coach of the Indian wrestling team that recently won the team title in the cadet worlds in Russia.
Lalit says that Sushil, Malikov and a couple of other coaches had watched videos of all 16 of Dahiya's potential opponents and drafted plans on how to compete against them. There was even one on Zaur Uguev.
"We knew that Uguev would try to score early but that he couldn't match up with Ravi's pressure. We also knew that he is very good on the ground. So the plan was to keep the match close for the first couple of minutes and avoid ground wrestling at all costs," says Lalit.
While the first half of the plan worked, the emphasis on avoiding ground wrestling failed to be executed properly. In a culture like Chhatrasal with such a high expectation of perfection, that was a result that disappointed Ravi. In his room in Chhatrasal across a memento featuring Sushil's name, is a poster which he had taped on the drywall in 2019. Thank you universe, I am the gold medalist of the 2020 Tokyo Olympcs - it had read. After falling just short, Ravi barely smiled on the podium. "I had come here looking to win gold. Somewhere there was a mistake in my preparations," he would say.
It was a result that dampened feelings in Chhatrasal too. But although Ravi's medal isn't the improvement he had hoped for, Lalit admitted just how important it was.
"After what has happened over the last few months (The murder outside Chhatrasal and then Sushil's arrest on murder charges) There was a lot of negativity. Our boys were really disturbed. They were questioned by the police. We had the selection trials for the cadet world championships and only 4 out of ten boys were from Chhatrasal. That has never happened before. Ravi's medal will let people know once again what Chhatrasal is best known for," says Lalit.
Indeed, after about half an hour of celebrations, the music set was packed up, the dhol drummers paid and sent on their way, the shrine to Hanuman in front of the wrestling hall cleaned, the mat inside wiped and practice resumed once again.
"We had met Pehelwanji a few weeks back. He said no matter what happens, the work that has gone in making Chhatrasal what it is shouldn't go to waste. Even after Ravi's medal things will be as they were. When he comes back he will start training once again," says Lalit.