December 15, 2009

INDIA: At 80, he hangs upside down from a rope

. MUMBAI, Maharashtra / MidDay / December 15, 2009 At 80, he hangs upside down from a rope By Dhvani Solani While others his age vegetate before the television, Shantilal Shanghavi hangs from a rope, does the candle dance and balances pots on his head For those of you who have just hit 30, and shrug, "I'm too old for pilates", and others who think they are too plump to belly dance, a meeting with Shantilal Shanghavi, an 80 year-old Mallakhamb expert, is in order. But that's only when you manage to track him down. When he is not laughing his guts out at the neighbourhood laughter club or playing table tennis at a day-care centre for senior citizens, he is hanging upside down from a rope or dancing with lit candles, one of them precariously balanced on his head. "If I see something new, I have to try it," says the man who spent his life running a garment shop in Mumbai before retiring at 65. "Once I got off work, I set out on a mission to make myself and others happy," he smiles. In 2002, Shanghavi met an architect who was an expert at a fascinating candle dance. The routine requires the performer to light candles, stick one on each finger, and sway to music. "I added one more candle to the pack, by balancing it on my forehead," says Shanghavi, who has delighted audiences at schools, community centres and NGO functions. And when he is feeling a little more adventurous, a steel thali is added to the act. Shanghavi balances himself on it, turning it around clock-wise with his toes, without letting a single candle extinguish. Mallakhamb, a traditional Indian gymast sport, caught his fancy when he witnessed a training session at Dadar's Shivaji Park. In a camp held later that year, he enrolled himself in a batch of students between the ages of ten and twenty years. "It can be a bit dangerous, but I have people around to help me with it," he says. Shanghavi leads us into his bedroom to show us a row of earthen pots lined up against a wall. He is currently struggling to master a routine that requires him to balance five of these on his head. It's going to take a while to get there, he admits. "My family tends to be apprehensive about the activities I indulge in, but is there an age limit when you want to learn something new?" What is Mallakhamb? The word comes from Malla (gymnast) and khamb (pole), and refers to a traditional Indian fitness routine where a gymnast performs feats while hanging from a rope or pole. A sport that is struggling to survive, it helps practitioners gain concentration, speed and flexibility, while trying to hoodwink gravity. Of the states in India, 29 participate in Mallakhamb competitions at the national level.[rc] © 2009 MiD DAY Infomedia Ltd.