Wrestling fraternity in India today knows Sonba Tanajee Gongane as the 61kg ace freestyle national wrestler. The Maratha Light Infantry Havildar, who aspires to represent India in the Olympics, has already donned the national team colours as a member of the 10-men Indian freestyle team at the UWW World Wrestling Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
The youngster had won the 61kg silver in the silver medal at the Under-23 Asian Championship earlier this year.
However, few would be aware that this talent would have been lost in the struggle for financial survival but for a Tata Ace, the mini-truck that he bought with the help of a small loan from the co-operative bank in his village.
The champion wrestler who has taken to wrestling as a five-year-old in 2005 started impressing all. A wrestler from his village took his to Kolhapur for better training facilities. He would run errands for the senior wrestler, cook food for him, wash clothes for the only incentive of getting better exposure, training, food and a little pocket money.
As the destiny had it, the senior wrestler decided quit the sport four years later. Since, the family were not able to support him financially the promising talent was compelled to return to his village home. “I had no other option than to return home. There was no source of income and the family did not have funds to start any business. Since, I had no means of continuing wrestling I decided to support the family financially. I bought a Tata Ace mini-truck with a ₹ 1.5 lakh bank loan. Since, I was too young to get a driver’s license I would only drive my Tata Ace in and around the village. I knew it were not right to drive a vehicle without a license. But there was no other option. That one dare brought me back to wrestling,” reveals Gongane.
“One of my friends was a sportswear trader. In 2012, he asked me to get his consignment from Delhi. I readily agreed. Going to the National Capital meant a lot for village boys like me. That one trip to Delhi brought me back to my first love – wrestling. En route to Delhi we stayed at an akhara (wrestling club) in Pune. I shared my love for the sport with one of the wrestlers there. He offered to take care of my stay and food. But, I had to give him massage, cook his food. I was yet again doing all that after four years – cooking, practicing and running errands for the man who was supporting me pursue my dream.”
In a year’s time, Tanajee Gongane was a national cadet medallist in 2013. He did not stop thereafter, until the impressive run was briefly halted by an injury in 2016. Fearing that recovery and return to the mat might not be easy, he joined India Army for livelihood. But soon started representing Services Sports Promotion Board. Within a year, he was a senior national medallist and also earned a place in Wrestling Federation of India’s national camp.
The wheel of fortune had turned a full circle for Gongane. His wrestling career for a second time was getting the much-needed drive from the Tata Motors Commercial Vehicle Division. This time, for India’s leading commercial vehicle brand being the Principal Sponsor of the Wrestling Federation of India. “But for Tata Ace, I might not have been the wrestler I am today and now I aim to realise my Olympic dream with the support of WFI and Tata Motors. Maratha LI has been the major turning point of my career,” says Gongane.
“Sonba Gongane is one of numerous Acepiration life stories of our 20 lakh plus customers who have transformed their lives and achieved their dreams through the Tata Ace mini truck,” says UT Ramprasad, Head of Marketing Communications, Tata Motors Commercial Vehicle Unit.
“His is an inspirational story that takes Tata Motors and wrestling partnership beyond the mat. And symbolises the essence of Tata Motors’ vision for the sport of wrestling – enabling each wrestler to achieve their fullest potential . This is yet another story to celebrate for the Tata Ace family of entrepreneurs.
“Tata Ace is a true example of how a small investment backed by a little commitment, vision and big dream fructifies into a successful entrepreneurship.”
Gongane, who idealises Bajrang Punia, now aims to compete in the 65 kg category. The ultimate aim is the Olympic glory.