Back in August it would have been a fair bet that, outside of SABA, not one HBS student would have had the slightest clue about the Indian sport of Kabaddi. Three months later, on a cold blustery Friday afternoon, over one hundred students representing seven of the ten RC sections gathered on Baker Library Lawn to take part in this somewhat bizarre activity normally more closely associated with rural South Asia than America’s premier university.
Kabaddi started as something of a joke after section mates discovered that Will Dean (NI) had listed the sport as an interest on his classcard and, out of curiosity, agreed to a one-off game. The game, which Will learned whilst working at the British Embassy in New Delhi, was an instant hit. Soon, regular Friday afternoon Kabaddi sessions became the norm in Section I. Amazed by the instant popularity of the sport, Will set about organizing an Inter-Section Kabaddi tournament to raise money for Shakti Shalini, an orphanage and women’s shelter in New Delhi. After some initial concerns stemming from stories of broken noses and dislocated jaws, seven RC sections managed to raise squads for the tournament with each player – and many spectators – giving a $10 donation to Shakti Shalini. In total, the event raised over $1,000 for the charity that helps impoverished single mothers across India.
The popularity of Kabaddi lies in its simplicity. The game, played primarily by village dwellers in rural India, takes only five minutes to learn. It is fast-paced and high scoring and combines teamwork on defense neatly with individual offensive flare; a combination of big bone-crunchers and light slippery players forms a strong team. Players from each side take it in turn to charge into the opposition’s half with the aim of tagging as many players as possible before returning to their own half. The complicating factor, however, is that the attacker must hold his breath – something he proves by chanting ‘kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi’ – the entire time he lingers in the other side’s zone. Meanwhile, the defenders attempt to wrestle him to the ground until he is out of breath. The event is a hit with spectators, who on Friday numbered at least eighty. As one impassioned member of Section I explains, “the spectacle of seven men leaping upon one raider as he frantically attempts to retreat home is comedic in the extreme.”
On the field, both Section I teams made an impressive start. Section I (A Team) knocked out a spirited Section C whilst the experience of the smaller B Team allowed them to dispatch a highly competent G. In the other first round matches, a frighteningly well-organized Section B smashed passed a shell-shocked H, while a seemingly impenetrable Section E demonstrated that they have learned several lessons since their defeat to Section I as they brushed passed D. The first semi-final plotted Section I (B Team) against an increasingly confident B; ultimately experience gave way to size as the HBS Rugby First XV Prop Joel Hartel (NB) saw of several lighter B Team players in a closely fought and highly entertaining contest. The other semi-final proved to be equally absorbing as Section E challenged Section I (A Team) right to the end. The game was highly charged but referee Carlos Angrisano stood his ground as Section I eventually disposed of captain Matt Wrigley’s squad.
The tournament’s final round lacks none of the drama of earlier games as Section I immediately lost several points to B. The crowd of Section I supporters was stunned into silence as the tournament favorites were taught a lesson by Satya Raghavan’s (NB) side – the only team to include a female Kabaddi player, Liz Whitman (NB). However, Section I Captain Justin Pinchback rallies the troops and superb performances on attack from Jeremy King and Vivek Raj as well as crunch tackles from Bram Belzberg and Will Dean began to give I the edge. . As the skies darken and Boston’s December chill lays its claim, the game was won on defense as I’s experience and discipline allowed them to pick off B’s raiders. Although the victory was decisive, the final score of 14-5 perhaps flatters I, who can expect a much stiffer challenge in the future.
Already section teams are training for next Kabaddi tournament, which is scheduled for spring 2008. In the meantime, Section I will resume Friday afternoon Kabaddi as soon as weather permits. As always, new players are not only welcome but encouraged.