With the agility of a lemur and the smile of an angel,Dara Singh became the Pawan Putra
When I first walked onto his Juhu terrace to meet him,I had already read up on him. I had spoken to his brother and son about him,but the legend of gigantic proportions nevertheless stared at me with those gentle eyes that could melt the hearts of even the vilest WWE impersonating stuntmen this generation is growing up on. Could this be the secret behind his undefeated run?
Yes,Dara Singh was undefeated through his entire career. Even at the first wrestling match he fought as a teen at his Dharmuchak village,he got thrashed black and blue but refused to go down.
And that streak continued,with the right strategy,especially before wrestlers he was meeting for the first time. The ones bigger than him,like King Kong and Lou Thesz,would ready their assaults and he would eventually use their momentum and deliver his trademark helicopter throw out of the arena almost with the same effort that Mahendra Singh Dhoni deploys against a tiny red cherry.
But wrestling,like most other sports,didnt assure financial stability,despite the fact that Dara Singh nights were the equivalent of Kishore Kumar nights in those days. Families would gape in awe as a smiling Dara would nonchalantly hurl challengers like ninepins,often before the samosa vendor was able to get into the stalls with his wares. So upon request from the organisers he started to take things easy in the ring.
But not so in life. He saw erstwhile champions live out their last days in penury,and when Bollywood came to him,he embraced the tamasha at the cost of angering association heads and wrestling puritans. He did it so he could secure his familys future.
He knowingly stepped into the clichéd mould of a Hercules/ Tarzan/Zimbo/Sikander the superhero who could literally pull the moon with his bare hands to capture a galaxy-fleeing villain. While there were eight of his films running to packed houses,he was still a laughingstock in the eyes of the so-called guardians of taste. This despite him having discovered Mumtaz,done some 100-odd films and eventually winning the National award for the Punjabi film Jagga.
When we were talking to him about the fall of wrestling and how mixed martial arts has not been drawing the kind of crowds he used to,he logically attributed the decline in wrestlings popularity to the other avenues for entertainment that exist today. Not once did he acknowledge that post Dara Singh,the wrestling association could not produce a single star. Most were interested in using the wrestling platform to eventually get into films,but the discipline and training necessary to withstand injury was too high a price for them to accept.
Which is true. When Dara Singh entered films,India had just lost its war against China. And perhaps the need for people to see an embodiment of their collective strength made him so cherished and loved. For they knew that at least on the canvas,in a one-on-one against any general or dictator or premier fighter of the world,he was unbeatable.
Dara Singh,for most of independent Indias history,has symbolised strength. His son was teased often when he would say Mera baap Dara Singh hai (Dara Singh is my father) with a kissi aur hero ka naam le le (name another hero).
He never stopped being a wrestler. His son recounted how he had once taken his father now well into his retirement to witness a freestyle wrestling match where foreign fighters were thrashing the current lot of Indian wrestlers. The crowd started to jeer,which turned into cheers when they chanced on Dara ji. The audience cheerfully insisted that he take centrestage once again and their hero stepped up and restarted his helicopter wheels on stage. Of course,the European fighters were thrashed. This was when Dara ji was almost 60 years old.
Todays generation,which is growing up on the carefully orchestrated TV valour of John Cena and Dwayne Johnson,will never know that once upon a time,with the agility of a lemur and muscles hardened through rigorous gravel-biting exercise regimes in Dharmuchak,a man from Punjab with the smile of an angel became a Pawan Putra long before Ramanand Sagar gave him a television avatar.
Dara Singh stayed undefeated both inside and outside the ring. Even the ventilator he was on had to be taken off. He breathed his last at his home,not within the confines of a hospital. Death too annulled the match. And now when he leaves on the shoulders of thousands who adored and worshipped him,we must know that he didnt lose his last fight. He just moved on.
Sen,a writer and director,is working on a biopic on Dara Singh