Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Champ who floored King Kong

It was in the 1960s that Kochi had its first tryst with the legendary wrestler Dara Singh aka Deedar Singh Randhawa. Nothing much was known about it other than the grappling competition held in the old ‘Barrack Maidan’ at Fort Kochi. But the second rendezvous still remains afresh in the memories of many Kochiites.

M M Salim, who was then a boy of seven, was awed at the way Dara Singh beat his contender who was double his size. “He lifted King Kong who was 200 kg and threw him away. I still remember the announcement that was made after his victory on King Kong. Dara Singh, 36 beat a much younger King Kong,” Salim said. Dara Singh took just 40 minutes to beat his opponent.“I was so overwhelmed with excitement that I tore down a piece of poster from the venue, Marine Drive,” says Salim. Though he was too ecstatic about those memories he was sad that he lost the poster which was one of his prized possession. “I live in a rented house. In the scurry to move from one place to another, I lost it. It bore a picture of him facing the audience with spread hands,” he says.  Salim says that it became one of the mammoth events in the erstwhile Cochin as it drew many spectators from every nook and cranny of the district. Salim, who is now a wrestling coach and the state secretary of Kerala State Indian Style Wrestling Association, said that Dara Singh had a huge fan following here.

He says that unlike today, Kochi once nurtured a passion for wrestling. “Young and the old alike were into it. After Mehmood’s songs, it was always ‘Gusti’ that we preferred then,” says Salim. Barrack Maidan, Modi Bath and Jew Ground were once the centres for grappling competitions.

Salim says that he was also lucky as he got opportunities to meet the legendary wrestler thrice. He was a keen follower of national competitions. "Though old age-related illness was having a heavy toll on his health, he never missed any such competitions. I could interact with him thrice."

Salim met Dara Singh two years ago, with his students at Ahmed Nagar, Maharashtra. “He asked us to try new techniques in Gusti. He knew that the role of South Indians in the history of Gusti is not as prominent as that of North Indians,” he says.

The Kerala State Indian Style Wrestling Association also held a commemorative meeting for the late Dara Singh on Thursday at Fort Kochi.

published in The New Indian Express