NEARLY TWO decades after 9/11 shook the United States and a resultant ‘mistaken identity’ crisis led to a spurt in hate crimes against Sikhs, Fauja Singh, a beloved member of the community and the world’s oldest marathoner, has been featured as a superhero in a children’s book authored by an American professor.
The book ‘Fauja Singh Keeps Going — A true story of the oldest person to ever run a marathon’, narrates the story of the 109-year-old, who became the world’s oldest runner to complete a marathon in 2011 at age of 100. Complete with illustrations, it aims to tell children the inspirational story of a Sikh boy in a village of Punjab, who only started running at the age of 81, as he was born with weak legs that wouldn’t even allow him to play cricket and run with his friends. His parents would worry that he might never be able to walk. But he never stopped trying. He worked harder, strengthened his body and mind. Eventually, he went on to complete a marathon at age of 100 from then on, broke several other records.
Authored by New York-based professor Simran Jeet Singh (36), the book also featured among the ‘bestsellers’ on Amazon after its release on August 25.
Fauja Singh, who currently stays at his native village Beas Pind in Jalandhar, Punjab, has also written a foreword for the book.
He writes: “All my life, people set limitations on me. They said I would never walk…They certainly never thought I would set records with my running. No matter what people said, I always believed in myself…I never gave up. And I always held on to hope…The boy they teased for not being able to walk became the oldest person to ever run a marathon. I was the first 100-year-old to ever run 26.2 miles. Doctors couldn’t figure out why I had trouble walking as a child, nor could they figure out why I was able to begin walking and, eventually, running. I think of it as a reminder that all of our bodies are different — and so are our experiences with disabilities…My secret to a long and healthy life has been taking care of my mind, body, and soul. Everyday, I challenge myself to think, exercise, eat healthy, and pray…’
The book, which includes beautiful illustrations by Baljinder Kaur, traces the journey of young Fauja from Punjab to the UK. It describes how young Fauja, whose name meant ‘warrior lion’, wanted to feel stronger but his parents worried that he might not even be able to walk. But his mother kept motivating him and he never stopped trying. It was only after his fifth birthday that a miracle happened and he started taking steps, and his family was so elated that they distributed prasad in the village and went to a gurdwara for special prayers. But his legs were still very weak and children started teasing him and calling him ‘danda’ (stick). When it was time for him to go to school, but there was no transport, his legs were not strong enough for him to walk all the way. So he started farming with his father and would study at home. But by the time he turned 15, he could walk a mile, as the entire village watched, bewildered.
It was time for him to accept another challenge in his life and at age of 81, he moved to England with his family. He felt like a stranger in a country he never knew, as everyone would speak English and he had no friends. One day he put on his shoes and started running, and then there was no looking back. The winds flowed through his beard and for the first time, he had a smile on his face after coming to the UK. Eventually, he underwent professional training, and became the world’s oldest marathoner and ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon at 100 on October 16, 2011.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, author Simran Jeet Singh, a professor in religion, culture and history at the Union Theological Seminary, New York, said, “Growing up in the US in a Sikh family, we always used to wonder why there were no storybooks or children’s books with turbaned superheroes? I used to ask my parents why there can’t be any superheroes that look like me! Especially after 9/11 attacks, the Sikh community in the US has faced a lot and continues to do so. There were racial and hate crimes as they were mistook as terrorists. It was so important to introduce a superhero from my community and tell children that there can be superheroes who wear turban and have beards. To wean away hate crimes against Sikhs in the US, it is important to start from the children because they should know who Sikhs are and how they look. This book is more important for children of native Americans so they do not grow up inculcating hate or any doubts about Sikhs in their minds. After its release, the book has been a bestseller on Amazon and we are also distributing copies in the schools. We will also provide books in India…”
Harjinder Singh Kukreja, a Ludhiana-based restauranteur, said, “After 9/11, Sikhs continue to struggle of how little
Americans know of Sikhism. Nineteen years after 9/11, we are still mistaken as terrorists and hate crimes against Sikhs in the US still continue. A book introducing a Sikh hero to the children in the US will tell young minds who are Sikhs, how they look, what a turban means and that Sikhs are not terrorists…”
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