A showman who brought wrestling into the spotlight

Dara Singh

A wrestling enthusiast, Chanchal Kumar, the doorkeeper to the main entrance at the National Sports Club of India in Worli, perks up at the mention of Dara Singh. He knows nothing of the actor-wrestler's passing away on Thursday, but with a hand pointing towards the swanky chrome-and-glass stadium dome, Chanchal indicates just where his wide-eyed memories of the big pehelwaan, lie frozen.

Every gesture with his expressive hands is grandiose: Dara ji was massive wrestler, he says. His opponents too were men-mountains. The makeshift stands for Dara Singh's fights, inside what was then a velodrome, came in huge lorries. And the sea of people coming to watch him could stretch right upto where land met water across the Haji Ali sea indent. Some, or all of it could be exaggerations, but it tells you that Dara Singh's aura was near-mythical.

Pioneer pehelwaan

"Dara ji never lost to any foreigner here," he says with visible pride, his hand still pointing to what was once a hollow space with a mud pit. "Wrestling was finished after that," he says.

Jumping up from the dangals of akharas across Indian villages, Dara Singh in fact, brought in what was the earliest avatar of WWE to Mumbai, and across Indian towns. It was still WWE in slow-motion, and they didn't smirk at the antics back then — as Jagmal Singh, mentor to the London-bound Narsingh Yadav — explains. "Oh, public loved the stunts. Picking up opponents, hurling them around, throwing them with a bang and jumping with them to the mat. Kids would go mad," he says.

Transcending boundaries

Dara Singh never won an organised Olympics-rule title, still he inspired a generation of amateur wrestlers who went on to win medals at the international stage. Like the 1982 Asian Games gold medallist, Satpal Singh.

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