Click here for more...

Click here for more...

VOL. XXII NO. 8, August 1-15, 2012
The day Dara Singh was arrested
By G. Ram Mohan
  • Veteran world-renowned wrestler-turned Bollywood actor Dara Singh passed away recently. This article remembers the adulation he received in Madras.

The sad news of the death of Dara Singh, the great wrestler and movie/TV actor, recently brings back to my mind unforgettable memories of his visits to Madras in the 1950s.

Dara Singh was introduced to Madras in 1953 as the all-in-wrestling 'Champion of India'. The title in Urdu, 'Rustam-e-Hind', was not used in Madras. Till then our generation had no idea whatsoever of the sport called wrestling. Our fathers and uncles used to sometimes speak of Gama and Harbans Singh as great wrestlers of the pre-World War II era, but the names did not mean anything to us.

We knew of boxing, of course. Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Rocky Marciano and Sugar Ray Robinson were among the famous champions on the world arena. Earlier, we had our local Madras-based boxing heroes too – like M.K. Muthu, Franklin Melino and 'Tiger' Natteri ('Terry' to his fans). Then, unfortunately, one evening at the Salt Cotaurs stadium, Terry, in what must have been a fierce and bloody contest, knocked his opponent Arunachalam dead with one powerful punch to the head. That tragic event completely obliterated the popularity of professional boxing in the city. Madras had no stomach for a bloody sport.

It was at that juncture that some sports enthusiasts-cum- entrepreneurs brought all-in-wrestling sport to the city. Here was a form of fighting sport that was blood-free. A whole host of international professional teams of wrestlers were brought to stage a series of bouts to thrill the Madras spectators. Great international champions landed in our city, amongst whom were: King Kong, 'Champion of South East Asia', Sergei Orloff, 'the Russian Bear', Ali Riza Bay, the Egyptian champion with the 'guillotine chops', Jeji Goldstein, 'Champion of Palestine', Wong Bok Lee, 'Champion of China' and Zebisky, 'Champion of Poland'.

And, then, there was the great Dara Singh, who stole our hearts.

The venue for the fights was a temporary stadium put up at the YMCA grounds in Royapettah. There would be three matches every evening, with the entire programme lasting about an hour and a half. Fights were always one on one. They were arranged in all possible combinations. There was no classification of wrestlers according to weights, nor was it organised as a tournament. There was no league system with point counts, nor any system of elimination of the losers. The idea was just to stage a series of matches.

But there were various external factors that made the fights very exciting. There would be fights between two fierce wrestlers who had declared themselves sworn enemies. The audience would take sides. There would be challenges thrown by them in public, to be settled only in the ring. There would be disputed decisions to be resolved only by refights. Mysterious masked fighters would appear unannounced, beat up a champion fighter to a pulp and just vanish – all these spontaneously added to the thrills of the fights.

Crowds thronged Royapettah. Some of the wrestlers were favourites with the crowds, and some were intensely hated. King Kong was the ill-tempered, foul-playing giant of a fighter who was hated the most. Ali Riza Bay and Jeji Goldstein were the gentlemen fighters whom the audience liked. But, by far the most loved, the darling of the crowds, was our own Dara Singh! He was a powerful fighter who always played fair and fought strictly according to the rules. It was a delight to watch him, right from the moment he stepped out of the dressing room into the arena.

"Dara Singh, the Champion of India, enters the ring from the blue corner", the master of ceremonies would announce grandly.

And then there he would be, tall and erect, a dashing figure dressed in a long robe of rich brocade reaching down to his ankles, looking like a Maharajah. A satin sash, a loose turban with a feather pattern at one end would resemble the crown and the other end hanging like a tail at the back of his head. He would come running, and jump into the ring floating over the ropes in the manner of a pole-vaulter clearing the bar. He would land neatly on his feet. He would be all smiles oozing confidence, and would remove the turban with a flourish. Then he would take off the robe to expose a glorious, sculpted body – all rippling muscles with not an ounce of fat. The all-male audience would go mad, clapping, whistling, screaming. If there were women in the-audience some would doubtless have swooned!

Dara Singh fought neat. He was extremely clever in the way he attacked the opponent. He would trick his opponent into letting him get into the position he wanted, and then grip him in a deadly hold that would have the opponent writhing in pain. He would trip the opponent, make him fall, and then hold him down in a 'body press' up to a count of ten. Another way of knocking out his opponent was to bodily lift him, spin him around, make him dizzy and then drop him in a heap. Dara Singh won most of his fights.

Dara Singh's admirers came from all classes from all over the city – ranging from the aristocrats of T'Nagar and Adyar to the middle class of Mylapore and Triplicane and the working class of Choolai and Royapuram. The only difference was that whereas those known to be educated called him 'Dara Singh', he was 'Tara Singh' to the crowds who thronged from north Madras. He was Namma Tara Singh (our Tara Singh) to the people who felt possessive about him – or even Namma Tara Singh paiyyan (our boy Tara Singh) to those who felt themselves very close to their hero.

Publicity for the fights and announcement of programmes were mostly through wall posters and advertisements in the daily newspapers. The newspapers themselves did not give any news of the bouts or of the results thereof. Apparently, the editors had decided that it was all a put-up show and not news-worthy. But we the fans did not think so; and we desperately wanted news of the results of each day's bouts. There was no way of knowing the results unless you attended the matches in person. And not many could afford the cost of attending the fights every day. Sometimes one would get news of the results passed on by word of mouth. But that could be quite a few days after the event, and not always true and reliable. It was all very frustrating.

Then one morning, quite by accident, I discovered that there was among the regular daily visitors to our street one man who attended the matches every day without fail. It was our milkman. One morning I heard him discussing the results of previous day's wrestling bouts with one of his assistants. Namma Tara Singh paiyyan had beaten King Kong – that was the news. I was thrilled to get the news first hand and he gave me all the minutest details. I could not have asked for more. From that day I invariably spent some time with him every morning getting news of the previous day's fights. Namma Tara Singh kept winning one fight after another, and our milkman was only too happy to review the fights for me.

Then one morning it was all very different. He was sitting in silence outside our house on the roadside near one of his cows. His face was drawn and bore a sad look. I could sense that something had gone wrong.

"Tara Singh has been arrested!", he said.

I picked up the newspaper with trembling hands and instinctively turned to the sports page thinking that was where the news would be.

Not finding any such news in sports columns I turned to the front page.

And there it was. 'TARA SINGH ARRESTED', it proclaimed. Yes, Master Tara Singh, the well-known fire brand Akali leader of that era had been arrested while leading a dharna outside the Parliament.

Please click here to support the Heritage Act

In this issue

Where are those water bodies?
Marina to undergo yet another facelift
Homes of yore
Draw up your plans for Madras Week
Changing face of the game
Ravi Varma's heroines come alive on stage
A cityscape and a chronicle
The day Dara Singh was arrested
The return of the Redvented Bulbul

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan


Download PDF