“Dara Singh”, the magic words of strength! Almost everyone born in the fifties to sixties would easily associate at least one episode in his life when seeing a heavy object he had exclaimed “ Isse Dara Singh uttha lega ?” or chiding a wannabe bully “Oye, tu Dara Singh hai ”? The man was synonymous with a super human strength. Little wonder when the movie directors started looking out for an appropriate man to play Lord Hanuman he was a natural choice.
Belonging to a small village, Butari near Amritsar, he shot into public eye with his wrestling exploits. For the first time an Indian wrestler successful matched muscles and skills with the best international names in free style wrestling. From Rustam-e-Hind he quickly rose to be the Rustam-e-Zaman and in an era when there was nothing to cheer about in individual sports achievement he brought smiles and glory to the nation. I too saw one of his matches with a much-touted wrestler from USA named Godienko. However, to my disappointment, Mr. Godienko was dispatched to the dressing room with a twisted leg in two minutes flat.
After his tremendous popularity in the wrestling arena, which transcended age and sex barriers the call to the movies was a natural progression. I have fond memories of watching his stunt movies (or B grade stuff as it was then called) in my childhood. Pure escapist and dishoom dhisoom movies like Faulad, King Kong were a child’s delight. The audience would loudly applaud when he would apply his famous “Death Lock” on the hapless villain and have him crying for mercy. His heavily accented Hindi and an unpretentious demeanor only endeared him to the audience. Mumtaz made her debut opposite him and went on to become the queen of celluloid in the seventies. His brother, Randhawa, and other wrestlers like Tiger Joginder Singh etc tried to ride piggyback on his success in the stunt genre but none could match his innocent and gentle giant charisma. One of his finest roles was that of Alexander in the classic Sikander-e-Azam but the peak of his popularity came with TV serial on the epic Ramayan. Dara Singh was crafted, ordained, destined and made for the role of Hanuman. His innate humility and innocent honesty spilled out even through the mask of the monkey God.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to observe him from close quarters. Way back in the winter of 1972 he walked into the office of my father to apply for a gun license, which was immediately granted (You never said No to Dara Singh !!). As reciprocation, and I suspect in deference to my father’s position in the district, we received an invitation to his eldest son’s marriage. For the avid movie buffs he was the famous Billu, Shotgun Sinha’s partner in crime, in the movie Ganga Tera Paani Amrit. The baraat was to start from the famous Bijli Pehalwan’s temple in Amritsar. The moment we were ushered into the room where he was sitting I, a star struck 13 year old, flashed out my Autograph Book to capture his signatures which would have assured me the bragging rights for the next one month. He gave out a hearty laugh and enveloped me in a gigantic bear hug. Dara Singh hugged ME! And I was in a daze for the rest of the evening. We walked with him in the baraat and even did a small Bhangra jig. Most of the inebriated baratis, many of whom were obvious gatecrashers, tried to grab his hand and dance with him. Most of them were effortlessly lifted like children, swung around in the air and then gently put down. His enormous patience was only exceeded by his generosity. Even in those times, way cheaper compared to now, he gave out a hundred buck tip to every waiter who came to him with a decorated plate. It takes an effort for me to do that even today.
It’s natural for most of us to take a lot of things for granted. Life, unfortunately, is one of them. Most of us ordinary mortals suffer from the “I am invincible” syndrome and often lose sight of the ultimate truth. But this was a different man. In our consciousness he was always indestructible and for me it is difficult to come to terms with his absence. His memory will linger in my heart for a long time to come simply because of so many associations that I have with his name, his legendry deeds, his celluloid persona and not to forget my unforgettable four hour evening with him.
I would miss him but I would not grieve his passing simply because the Dara Singhs of this world do not die. It’s just that he now lives with titans of another world.