( ON HANUMAN JAYANTI)
BY ALI PETER JOHN
He was truly India’s answer to Tarzan, Samson and Hercules. He was the ultimate symbol of the strength of man. He was more of a myth than a man. There have been all kinds of stories about him which have become stories told in all Indian homes and even in different parts of the world because he was the ‘Rustom-E-Zamaana’ (wrestling champion of the world). The myths had overpowered the man who was a simple and soft-hearted man who hated anger and violence the most and for whom free-style wrestling was only a sport in which he reveled and never lost any wrestling bout in all the fifty years that he ruled as a champion.
I was in school when I heard stories of this mighty man and was baffled by them. There were stories which said he had six full chicken together with all the best dry fruits, fresh fruits, a bucket full of milk and a quarter of a kilo of pure ghee which came all the way from his village in Punjab for breakfast. There was a similar diet followed during lunch time and dinner time. I had heard stories about how he could carry three huge wrestlers in his palms and fling them out of the wrestling ring. I had heard stories of how he could pull six wild horses all by himself and the stories about Dara Singh kept growing and making me more and more curious to have a look at the man.
It was in the sixties that he was at his best and every Saturday evening was an evening when I together with some of my friends made it a point to be at the Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium where most of his wrestling matches with wrestlers from the country and from all over the world was fought. We all knew the results, we knew that no one could defeat Dara Singh in the ring and he lived up to our expectations when he never lost a single fight and went on to knock out the Mr. America to become the champion of the world. (“Rustom-E-Zamaan”)
I believed all the myths that were woven around him without knowing even in my wildest dreams that I would one day come face to face with this man and become his best friend who was given the privilege of knowing almost all the truths behind the myths of this legend called Dara Singh.
This is an attempt to give all those who still believe in those myths to come up with the genuine truths behind Dara Singh, the man who was considered the ultimate man when it came to strength. The question, ‘Kya Dara Singh banta hai kya? And other similar questions asked by people who behaved as if they had all the strength were and still are very common. Even when Hrishikesh Mukherjee made a film like ‘Anand’ with the late Rajesh Khanna, he could not think of anyone else but Dara Singh when it came to symbolize a man of unbelievable strength and even Raj Kapoor used him as a strong man in his magnum opus, ‘Mera Naam Joker’. The stories about his strength were so popular that he was even made to appear in films made in different languages in India…
Before I go any further, let me share with you some of the truths the great but simple man shared with me. He said he came from a simple village in Punjab and had hardly had any education but was interested in wrestling. It was this interest that first made him win some of the most popular wrestling bouts in India which finally took him to Singapore, then to America and all over Europe where he proved to be a winner all the way. He came up with the truths about his lifestyle which took me by surprise and now that he has gone away, I am sure they will take readers by surprise as well.
His day started at 5.30 in the morning with a glass of water followed by some vigorous exercises. He had 1000 to 1500 ‘push-ups’ every morning, the same number of ‘sit-ups’ six days in a week. The exercises were followed by wrestlers who were paid to fight with him in the best way they could. He had between 200 and 250 ‘push-ups’ before a wrestling bout. He ran 5 kilometers while he was in his village in Punjab and then on the Juhu beach. He also exercised by cycling 20 to 25 kilometers every day, followed by rope-climbing. Yoga was another very important regimen of his daily life.
Coming to his diet, he came up with a list which shattered all the myths I had heard about him. His breakfast started with 100 almonds grounded to a kind of paste and mixed with a ‘kilo’ of pure milk. It was followed by a thick soup (yakhni) formed out of an entire chicken. He had to have just one chicken cooked for him, mostly roasted on a slow fire for several hours. His lunch consisted of a strictly vegetarian diet most of the time. He never ate rice. He had three or four chapaatis for lunch, some green vegetables specially grown for him, he had to have some seasonal fruits and green salad. The total consumption of milk was around two ‘kilos’ during the whole day. Another quarter ‘kilo’ of pure ghee made at home went into the cooking of all the food he consumed during the day. “I too have heard of all the stories of my eating like a ‘raakshas’ but I am just an ordinary man who God has blessed with a strong body and I feel it is my duty to take care of it,” he said in his soft tone which I never saw reaching a high pitch under any provocation.
There was a general belief that a ‘pehalwan’ like him would be a teetotaler, but Dara Singh did not hide the fact that he loved having a drink or two of Vodka once in a week. I remember travelling with him to Sangli in Maharashtra where he was to felicitate the greatest ‘pehalwan’ of Maharashtra Maruti Rao Pehalwan. We were sitting in the train, it was soon going to be time for dinner and I who could not think of having dinner without a drink or two wondered what would happen to me through the night. Then as if he had read my mind, he opened his bag and took out a bottle of Scotch and we had a few swigs of the liquid that made us open up with some very interesting stories. The same Dara Singh once came to know that I was in hospital. He came to the director of the hospital himself and asked him for permission to take me to his house where his daughter was getting married. He gave the doctor a letter written in his own hand that he would be responsible if I even touched a drop of alcohol. His gesture was so powerful that I did not touch alcohol for the next eleven years.
Dara Singh lived up to his reputation as a strong man when he had no security guards for his house in Juhu, named “Dara Villa”, no security in his bungalow in Delhi and Chandigarh and absolutely no personal security when he was a Member of the Rajya Sabha. He used to say, “It is the people whose love makes us the celebrities that we are. How will they ever harm us if they love us so much? I am totally against security of any sorts; it is so much of a waste of strong man power which can be used for so many other purposes. I would like to see the day when our leaders, from the President and Prime Minister down to the Councilor and the Collector move around with the people without any fear or any need for security.”
He has gone on record to be the only MP who has attended every session and meeting of the Rajya Sabha. He has created a number of trusts for old and ailing wrestlers and even for the poor and downtrodden in the places which are very close to him. He has never turned down anyone’s request for help.
He developed the habit of reading and especially loved reading books on the history of the world. He was a firm believer in God but didn’t believe in all the rites and rituals. His favourite pastimes were playing Chess or a game of cards with members of his family.
He turned totally vegetarian during the time he played the role of “Bajrangbali” or Hanuman in the popular serial, “Ramayan”.
He was never seen losing his temper or getting angry with anyone and was perhaps the only man I know who had never used a single word of abuse in any language (which was a very rare strong point for a man who was the President of the All India Punjabi Jat Samaj) and he told me one more secret when I asked him what he did when he got really angry with anyone, even his children. He said, “I don’t have to do anything. I just lock myself up in my room and come out only when I feel that I have controlled my anger.”
Unfortunately, the same hands which used to fight six wrestlers at the same time and who used to pick up great wrestlers like King Kong and throw them out into the audience faced serious trouble after he passed the age of 80. He lost complete control over his muscles and bones and had to seek support for anything he had to do with his hands. It was something which really broke him and finally made him loose the will to live. He hated depending on others even to help him have his tea or his food. His last wish was that he should not be taken to a hospital and to see that there were no tubes and pipes and other equipment “pushed” into any part of his body. His son Vindoo and the family respected his wish and when the doctors gave up all hope, they took him home to Dara Villa where he finally breathed his last on the morning of 12 July, 2012.
MORE ABOUT DARA SINGH
There was a time when there were more Dara Singh films running in a city like Bombay than those of any other star, the record being having 22 films starring him running in the city at the same time with one of them even called ‘Dara Singh’.
I was witness to the shooting of ‘Rustom’, a film he produced, directed and acted in. He was shooting in Matheran on location. It was lunch break and his lunch was served to him by a spot boy. The plate had only four chapattis, some dal, some fresh vegetables and a glass of salted lassi. The picnic spot was crowded by school students and when they realized that Dara Singh was having his lunch; thousands of them surrounded him and just gaped at him having his frugal lunch. They couldn’t believe this was the same Dara Singh about who they had heard all kinds of unbelievable stories like I had heard them once.
His brother-in-law, Ratan Aulakh is the only man who was authorized by the legend to write his biography and he is busy working on it.