For South Asian dockworkers in Dubai, kushti is a way of life

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Expatriate workers watch a competition in Dubai. Kushti is popular in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and was developed in the Mughal era by combining native ‘malla-yuddha’ wrestling with Persian ‘pahlavani’. (AFP)
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Immigrant workers in the UAE take part in a kushti competition in Dubai, turning a sandy lot in the emirate’s bustling district into the ring of champions. (AFP)
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Pakistani kushti wrestler Mohammed Arsalan, right, also known as Kala Pehlwan, talks to a colleague during a break from work the fish market in Dubai. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2018
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For South Asian dockworkers in Dubai, kushti is a way of life

DUBAI: Every Friday evening in Dubai’s bustling Deira district, a sandy lot is transformed into the ring of champions. It is kushti wrestling night and Kala Pehlwan is ready to fight.
As the sun sinks below towering palm trees, dozens of men — many in tunics, others in T-shirts — begin to form a perfect circle.
Most are Pakistani or Indian, from the cross-border region of Punjab, where kushti is a beloved pastime. They are also a pillar of the United Arab Emirates’ workforce.
Veteran wrestlers, now referees, pour water over the inner ring to minimize dust.
A peanut vendor drags a rickety cart around the circle, tending to the crowd — now three rows deep.
“Clink, clink, clink,” ring out wooden cymbals with bells.
The wrestlers unabashedly strip down to their underwear, donning yellow, red, or even floral-patterned loincloths.
“Kala Pehlwan, son, come to the ring! Suhail, son, come to the ring,” cries out 50-year-old Mohammed Iqbal — a Dubai kushti fixture.
Glaring, the opponents swipe one another’s bodies with sand — a reciprocal move to counter sweat.
The day’s matches are quick — sometimes under a minute — and hard fought.
A foot is trapped between a rival’s legs, a fighter flips over his opponent’s shoulders to escape his grip. One pins his match down on his stomach and throws sand in his face before getting restrained by the referees.
Spectators dart into the ring to film fights. Others watch in rapture, breaking out in cheers at decisive moments in the match.
The winner is declared when a fighter manages to pin his opponent to the ground on his back.
If the fight starts going over 20 minutes, the referees declare a tie.
On this evening, Kala Pehlwan finds himself overpowered — and faced with a challenge.
“Find me a fighter that can beat me,” his opponent taunts.
Kala Pehlwan, 26, huddled with friends and came up with a plan. They would find a challenger — not from Dubai, but from their hometown of Muzaffargarh in the Punjab region of Pakistan.
Within days, they had gathered the money, throwing in 50 dirhams to 100 dirhams each to pay for a plane ticket.
“I can’t meet you tonight I’m going to the airport,” Kala Pehlwan tells AFP one Monday evening.
Two days later, AFP met Kala Pehlwan at his workplace, Dubai’s gleaming Waterfront Market.
Row upon row of ice-topped stalls are laden with fresh fish from Oman, Sri Lanka and beyond — a testament to the shipping hub that is Dubai.
The stalls bear the names of Emirati owners, but South Asians are the face of the market.
“We have connections from Pakistan at the fish market,” says Kala Pehlwan. This is where he learned about the kushti matches when he arrived in Dubai six years ago.
The brawny fighter enters the delivery area, crossing paths with his mentor, Mohammed Iqbal, who is pushing a cart of fish.
“When I enter the market, everyone is excited. They recognize me and know my name. And if there is any problem, they come to help me because I’m famous,” Kala Pehlwan grins.
That evening, Mohammed Shahzad — the challenger from Muzaffargarh — tags along.
Dressed in a crisp, blue tunic, Shahzad, 22, says he didn’t hesitate when he received Kala Pehlwan’s call.
“The other fighter beat my friend and challenged him to find someone who can knock him out... so I came to Dubai,” he grinned.
Kala Pehlwan says kushti is a way of life back in Muzaffargarh.
“In our town, it’s a tradition to learn wrestling. Everybody grows up on kushti. They do not have bad habits like cigarettes or drugs. Everyone is trying to be fit for a fight.”
Kala Pehlwan — whose real name is Mohammed Arsalan — took his nom de guerre from a hometown legend who shares his fighting style.
He says a proper diet, coach and training are key to success. Eating right is his biggest challenge in an expensive metropolis.
Here, the fish market has some benefits.
“Fish is my favorite dish. It is the healthiest food because in Dubai, most things are coming in frozen form but fish is fresh. Every other day I am eating a fish from the market. We are getting free fish from our employer at the end of the day,” Kala Pehlwan says, returning to stack crates.
For Kala Pehlwan and many of his friends, Dubai is a temporary stage in life — a place to save cash before returning home.
They work hard and sleep in shifts.
AFP obtained permission to film at the men’s residence but was unable to because it would have disrupted the group’s sleeping patterns.
“We all have our jobs here. Some are porters, some work in the fish market,” Iqbal says ahead of a Friday match.
But kushti, he adds, “is our tradition. It’s where we come to de-stress.”
Iqbal wrestled for more than two decades in Dubai before passing the torch to the next generation, whom he takes the time to train each evening before work.
“It’s not hard to get a space for these fights because in Dubai they always want entertainment and encourage us.
“The (authorities) say arranging fights like this is better than fighting in anger where you live or at your workplace,” said Iqbal.
Kala Pehlwan says he can earn 500 dirhams to 600 dirhams on a good night — the money collected in a plastic bag by the referee and champion — but kushti is not about money.
“We can’t enjoy life, we can’t have a good time if we don’t have wrestling in Dubai,” he said.
When Friday night comes around again, it’s the visiting challenger Shahzad who wins.


Armored dinosaur with spiky head unveiled at Utah museum

This undated photo from the Natural History Museum of Utah shows the heavily ornamented skull of an ankylosaur, a squat plant-eater that was covered in bony armor from its spiky head to its clubbed tail, before its unveiling at the museum in Salt Lake City. (AP)
Updated 38 min 8 sec ago
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Armored dinosaur with spiky head unveiled at Utah museum

  • Paleontologists believe the animals migrated to North America several times over the eons when lowered sea levels allowed them to cross a land bridge
  • The fossil was discovered on the Kaiparowits Formation, a thick layer of sandstone that also has vast coal reserves inside a sprawling national monument

SALT LAKE CITY: A dinosaur that was covered in bony armor from its spiky head to its clubbed tail has been unveiled at a museum in Utah.
The species of ankylosaur was a squat plant-eater that roamed southern Utah on four legs about 76 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous Period. At that time, the desert state was hot and humid, covered with slow-moving streams and rivers as well as large conifer trees, paleontologist Randall Irmis said.
It was about as long as a large alligator and stood at a height that would have been about waist-high for a tall human. It likely used its distinctive clubbed tail and armor for protection, though they could also have been used for display.
The fossil unveiled Thursday at the Natural History Museum of Utah was first discovered in 2008 in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a rich dinosaur repository in southern Utah.
The fossil was discovered on the Kaiparowits Formation, a thick layer of sandstone that also has vast coal reserves inside a sprawling national monument that was one of two President Donald Trump ordered downsized last year. The spot where the fossil was found remains within Grand Staircase-Escalante boundaries, though areas that are now outside the boundaries also have fossil potential, Irmis said.
Researchers were expecting it to have smooth bony armor on its skull like other North American ankylosaurs, but were surprised to find evidence that it instead had spiky armor on its head and snout, similar to fossils found in Asia.
Paleontologists believe the animals migrated to North America several times over the eons when lowered sea levels allowed them to cross a land bridge.
The species was dubbed Akainacephalus johnsoni to recognize Randy Johnson, a retired chemist and museum volunteer who spent hundreds of hours painstakingly freeing the skull from rock and debris.
Along with a complete skull, the fossil also includes the distinctive tail club, large parts of its spinal vertebral column and parts of its body armor, including two neck rings and spiked armor plates, the museum said in a statement.