Punam Rani Malik, 28 years old, has played more than 200 international matches for the Indian ice hockey team and has been chosen to be at the Olympics in Rio. Like most of his teammates, Malik, like most top athletes in India, comes from a peasant family. But Malik, who was born and raised in the village of Umra in Hisar, Haryana, was never part of her family’s most anticipated harvest. This time Malik is at home in Die because of the blockade of the harvest season. Moreover, there is a great shortage of labour on the farm and Malik walks every day with his brother and parents, sickles in hand, through the golden cornfields.
It’s the first time I’ve been to a harvest, Malik says. I grew up in the village, but because of my sporting obligations I was never there during the harvest. The farmers in most villages avoided being called unknown farmers, and most famous farmers returned to their state. To compensate for the lack of labour on the farm, I joined the harvest. Malik led Kharyana after a seven-year delay in the national championship in February, just before the suspension.
Many other Olympic athletes are in the same situation. The world’s largest flying boxer, Amit Panghal, uses his explosive power to load trucks with wheat produced on the family farm – a short break from his rabid daily workout (watch his Twitter feed!).
Boxer Amit Panghal packs wheat in gun bags.
The fields are also home to the Olympic boxer Manoi Kumar, 33, and the Olympic boxer Rinku Huda, 33, from Rio Para.
Although the Malikov family hired a combine harvester, they could only harvest half of two hectares of wheat before the rain dried out the standing stalks. The car could no longer be used and Malik and his family were going to do the rest by hand.
In two sessions, morning and evening, it took four days for four members of the Malikow family to harvest wheat from an acre of land.
During those four days I had a good experience with the sickle, says Malik.
After harvesting, the next step will be threshing (separation of head and stems) and then leaking (separation of grain and weeds).
This is only the second time since 1999, when he joined the national team, that boxer Manoi Kumar has spent the harvesting season in his village Rajund in Kaitala, Haryana.
I’ve seen the elders reap since I was a child, Kumar says. Then I went to the farms with my father and uncle, just for fun. This time I’ll cut the crop.
Boxer Manoi Kumar’s harvest
In Kharyan, agriculture and sport go hand in hand. It is generally accepted that there is a close link between fieldwork and sportsmanship. The 24-year-old Panghal, who was the first Indian male boxer to win silver at the 2019 World Championships, seems to embody this living faith. His family owns one and a half acres in the village of Maina in Rohtak, Haryana.
I always support my family to the best of my ability, Mr Panghal said. Because of my duties as a boxer, I don’t normally work during the harvest. But because of the blockade I am in the village this time, so I have the opportunity to harvest and pack the grain for the grain market with my family. It’s a great pleasure to be the son of a farmer.
The Panghal is considered one of India’s most promising prospects for an Olympic medal.
Rinku Huda, 20, who was the youngest para-athlete of India at the Rio 2016 Games and won bronze in the javelin throws at the 2018 Para-Asian Games, is also gathering this season in his village of Dhamar in Rohtak, Haryana.
It’s my duty to cooperate with the combine harvester, Huda said. We have nine hectares of land and on half of our land we have already mechanized harvesting. We’ll do the second half starting tomorrow and hope it doesn’t rain. As soon as the harvest is done, I’ll help you bury the grain in rifle bags. In our village there are almost no agricultural workers.
Huda lost his left hand in an accident when he finished fourth as a young navigator at the World Skydiving Championships 2017 in London.