By Kulbhushan Kain
I was getting late for my meeting with him at his residence. I halted at the modest looking “kirana” store and asked the gentleman with shorts and a long white beard, “Randhir Singhji ka ghar kahaan hai?”
He gave me the directions, but checked again, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, very sure. He comes here sometimes to shop,” he answered.
I wasn’t so sure if the shopkeeper understood the man I was looking for! Why would an icon, from one of the most well known princely states of India, come to shop for knick knacks himself?
I asked him yet again, “Raja Randhir Singhji?”
“Yes, yes. Raja Sahib from the Patiala family. Bahut acche insaan hain. Subse pyaar se milte hain.”
What I already knew had been cemented. Raja Randhir Singh is one of the most lovable, gentlemanly, well read, well known human beings I have had the pleasure to meet in my life!!
It is impossible list his achievments. Suffice to write that he is not only one of India’s, but also one of the world’s most influential sportsman cum administrator. His achievements read like numbers in a telephone directory. Just imagine someone who represented India in 5 Olympics, 4 Asian Games (where he won an individual Gold, Silver and Bronze), Commonwealth Games, been a Secretary General of the Indian Olympic Association from 1987 to 2014, Secretary General of the Olympic Association of Asia, Founder General Secretary of the Afro Asian Games Council, Winner of the Arjuna Award, Maharaja Ranjit Singh Award, Olympic Order (Silver),… I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg! However what I must add is that he is also an Honorary Doctor of Literature, and an Honorary Doctor of Science from The National Institute of Physical Education, Gwalior, and Faculty of Sports Medicine, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.
There is so much to him. When I met him, it was as if I had entered a library with thousands of books -one wants to read all of them, but knows one can’t, and more importantly – can’t decide as to which book to start with!
I started by asking him about an incident which he recalled instantly. He was quick to respond.
“I remember the first time I went to the Olympics as a member of the Indian shooting contingent. It was the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. I remember Milkha Singh and Gurbachan Randhawa being in the adjoining rooms,” he recounted, and continued “I had turned 18 during the Olympics so the athletes’ village sent me a cake and the three of us shared it! The special thing about it was that it was my 18th birthday, it was on the 18th of the month and it was the 18th Olympic Games. Icant forget that.”
The child in him surfaced and he smiled. I could sense he was travelling back in time. I changed the conversation thread and asked him how he came into shooting when all members of the family were excellent cricketers and had played for India. Cricket was in his genes.
He recounted that, when he was barely 16 years old, he was at his maternal grandfather’s ancestral estate in Uttar Pradesh for a round of hunting. His maternal aunt, herself a national champion, enrolled him for the junior Nationals in clay-pigeon shooting without asking him! Shooting was not alien to him. It was a part of his life growing up and everyone in his family knew how to shoot and everyone had guns and rifles. He emerged a champion!
An illustrious shooter was born. He ended shooting competitively for India after 31 years!
As the sun peeped out of the skies and the mist swirled around the mountains that overlooked his beautiful house, I prodded him further and asked him to tell me something about the best physical specimens of the human race –champion athletes. Are they just like us or or are they very different from the normal mortals?
“Kulbhushan, it’s like this. In the Olympic village everyone is a champion. So you will see Steffi Graf, Serena Williams, Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Bob Beamon walk past or having breakfast across the table. Many athletes don’t even know them. How will a wrestler from Iran, Turkmestan, or a boxer from Cuba know them, or vice versa? They, and all others are very nice and modest human beings.”
Did he know many of them personally? Did they keep in touch with him and vice versa?
“Of course, I know most of them personally. In fact, Sebastian Coe and Sergey Bubka are very good friends. But just as in life – one may know many, but friends can be fewer,” he said with a smile.
What about the future of Indian sport? Did he think that India will be among the top 5 nations in the sporting field in the next 30 years?
“Much earlier,” he said without any hesitation. When I asked him why it has taken us so long to pose a reasonable challenge to other sporting nations, he was very clear, “When we got Independence, our priorities were different. We were integrating states, fighting poverty, developing industries, building schools, roads – we started from scratch. We could not afford the luxury of investing in sports in a big way. Now things have changed. The Federations are rich and the Government is spending huge amounts to popularise sports and encourage talent. Look at the facilities, the stadiums, the ease with which one can get equipment, ammunition, guns, the exposure to international competition, stipends…”
My beer had finished and I could smell the tantalizing aroma of food. I asked him one final question. It was on cricket – my favourite sport.
“Who do you rate as the finest cricketer you have seen?”
“Gary Sobers without a doubt. He could bat, bowl, field without putting in any effort. He was simply the best I have seen,” he said. I asked whether he had ever met him.
“Of course, many times,” and then broke off into a small anecdote.
“We were together at the Sydney Olympics – Gary, Wes Hall, Curtly Ambrose representing their nations and Federations. During the Olympics, I took Gary to a friend’s house for a drink and a meal. As it happened, Gary watched most of the Olympics from the comfort of his house. Too many people chasing him at the Olympic Stadium!”
It’s very difficult to write about Raja Randhir Singh in an article like this! He is an excellent cook and a foodie (writing a book on food), is a music lover (Hari Prasad Chaurasia is among his best friends), loves movies (“Amitabh Bacchan is a wonderful gentleman”), has indepth views on education (“why can’t we have the option to start schools in the afternoon – we never have 100 metres races in the mornings”), about our rich culture (“Its dying. We copy the west blindly in everything. Why can’t schoolgirls wear salwar kameez instead of skirts and why don’t boys wear kurta pyjamas instead of trousers, shirts and ties?”)…
At 75 years of age, he pursues his interest with the zest of a teenager. He is inquisitive, sharp. He continues to set a scorching pace.
That is why he is “Run Dhir” Singh! That’s why he continues to inspire.
Continue to run Sir!
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain@ gmail.com)