It's not cool to be known as a single-sport nation. Certainly not when you are nearly 1.3 billion in number. Over the past few years, we have been trying hard to change this perception. Even as cricket and its pampered superstars continue to rule our collective consciousness, a new crop of sportspersons is making waves in less glamorous but no less pulsating disciplines.
Whether or not the 'IPLisation' of kabaddi, hockey, badminton, tennis and football is a move in the right direction is open to discussion, but there is no doubt about the fact that it has given these sports that much-needed lift in terms of visibility, recognition and, above all, money. In addition, the stupendous level of consistency displayed by our shooters, wrestlers, boxers and weightlifters in quadrennial showpiece events like the Olympic, Asian and Commonwealth Games ought to be noticed and rewarded. There was a time when every other schoolgoer wanted to become Sachin Tendulkar. But now, don't be stumped if you come across a kid who idolises wrestler Sushil Kumar, the only Indian to win medals at consecutive Olympic Games.
Which is why dna is featuring six up and coming superstars who ply their trade on dusty grounds and smooth mats, astroturf and ranges, akharas and arenas. Anup Kumar, Kashiling Adake (both kabaddi), Mandeep Singh (hockey), Jitu Rai (shooting), Sathish Kumar Sivalingam (weightlifting) and Vinesh Phogat (wrestling) aren't household names. But sooner than later, they will be.
Each of these 'Super Six' has defied convention, overcome poverty and withstood pressure from various quarters to carve out a niche. If Adake worked on farms to support his ailing father, Rai moved from Nepal to Uttar Pradesh in search of livelihood. While Sivalingam dropped out of college for want of funds, Phogat invited the wrath of her villagers for taking up a sport "meant for men".
Say hello to India's new-age sport stars.