HYDERABAD: “His star is on the wane. He is no longer the player he once was. He has seen better days,” are some of the observations we have often been hearing about Jaipur Pink Panthers raider Rahul Chaudhari over the last few years in Pro Kabaddi League.
Well, try telling that to those who were present at the Gachi Bowli indoor stadium in Hyderabad on Saturday when Jaipur squared off against UP Yoddhas. It was as if a legion of Rahul’s fans descended on the venue armed with life-size cut-outs and other memorabilia of their ‘messiah’. The fans gathered at the venue many hours before the commencement of the match in the hope of laying their eyes on their ‘blue-eyed boy’ from a vantage point for the first time in more than three years.
And when that moment finally arrived, a loud roar erupted that was quickly followed by a deafening noise after first spotting his silhouette from a distance. When his muscular frame came into view, his first gesture was to wave his hand and then nod his head gently in acknowledgement of the crowd’s support and that extempore act was enough to send them into a tizzy.
Their idolatry of him bordered on mass hysteria, the kind of which was reserved for Indian cinema’s first Superstar back in the late sixties and early seventies. Not only would Rahul’s fans, or perhaps ‘fanatics’ would be more appropriate a term given their undying love and loyalty that knows no bounds, scoff at any disparaging remarks of him, they would consider them blasphemous even! Even if one feels there is merit in those views, it’s better not to air them in their presence keeping one’s own safety in mind.
There is a time and place for even good-natured banter of such kind, but that’s certainly not anywhere near the precincts of the stadium nor when Rahul is in action. For the uninitiated wondering why Rahul commands such ardent fan-following in Hyderabad, a good four years after he ‘severed’ his alliance with Telugu Titans, you only have to cast your mind back to his heroic deeds during his fruitful association with the franchise.
His acts of valour might not have won the title for Titans, but they certainly won the hearts and minds of the kabaddi enthusiasts of Hyderabad. No other individual in the league’s history, someone even boasting a higher pedigree, has succeeded in capturing the imagination of Hyderabadis in the way that Rahul did. Such is the legacy he left behind that even when he is clad in a rival team’s jersey upon his return to the ‘City of Pearls’, he could expect a full-house applauding him indefinitely.
It will be interesting to see what the crowd’s response will be when Jaipur takes on Titans on November 28.
Considering that Titans is out of the reckoning for playoffs, if there is one team the Titans fans wouldn’t mind losing to, it would be Jaipur and one where Rahul plays a prominent role. He may not deliver a ‘hit’ with the same regularity that he did in his halcyon days but his fans won’t mind that one bit. All they want is to see him on the mat for as long as possible.
The reception he was accorded on Saturday only reinforced the popular belief that Rahul’s ‘star’ value continues to shine the brightest in this part of the world.