When Punam Sinha once told me, “Don’t expect a reply from my husband to your SMS, expect a phone call because he loves to talk,” she wasn’t kidding. It was Shatrughan Sinha’s fondness for hearty company and non-stop talking that sent him back to the ICU last week, triggering off alarm bells about his health.
After a stint at the ICU when he complained of breathlessness caused by the strong smell of paint in his newly re-built bungalow, Shatrughan Sinha was shifted for a short while to a private VIP room on the 16th floor of Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. The 16th floor is like a sprawling five-star hotel, with tight security and catering like you are in a swishy suite. At 6pm the Sinha suite was bustling with his sister Annapurna Sinha (who had flown in from Patna for the grihapravesh on June 4 and had stayed on), brother Lakhan, his wife Gita and others, whispering over dosas and tea. Punam (Promi) Sinha had just stepped out, and secretary of many years Pavan Kumar had walked in. Nobody was allowed to go into the inner room to talk to the patient.
“We’ve taken away his mobile and he’s not even allowed to watch TV. That’s the only way he’ll get some rest,” said his family, with only Promi’s cousin Neil going in and out.
Five minutes later, Neil came up and asked me if I’d like to go in and say “Hi” to Shatru. Was it allowed? Yes, whispered Neil. I went up to his door and waved to Shatru. Starved of company, he’d have none of it and signalled to me to come in and meet him properly. Shatru talked of how he couldn’t stand the smell of paint and how he was there only for another day before being discharged. I backed out quickly, not wanting him to talk any more.
Sure enough, Promi had him back in the ICU the next day, “Because that’s the only way we can monitor him and prevent him from talking to anybody.”
Meanwhile, his doctor brother, Dr Bharat Sinha, has come in from the UK to look up his youngest sibling. Almost recovered and reading the newspapers but still no TV, no visitors, Shatrughan Sinha’s enforced maun vrat in the ICU continues.
A timely discharge for another celebrity patient in the same hospital ensured that Dara Singh passed away in the familiar environs of home and family.
Dara Singh was one of the few men who, in his own lifetime, went from being a proper noun to becoming a common noun. “Dara Singh” became a word, a synonym for physical strength, and didn’t remain just the name of a wrestler.
While he lay in coma at the Kokilaben Ambani hospital, son Vindoo told me sadly, “Dad’s not doing well, he’s critical.” It was “dad” who had introduced me to Vindoo years ago when he got his son to play chauffeur to the two of us. Working on a story about wrestling in India, Dara Singh had invited me to go to NSCI Stadium and watch a match with him. When Dara Singh walked into the stadium, it was like God had arrived.
Vindoo, closer to my age than his dad was, had driven the Merc to the stadium and while Dara Singh extolled the virtues of a disciplined, early-to-bed, early-to-rise lifestyle, the son had whispered to me naughtily, “I reach home around the time dad gets up in the morning.” Dara had listened indulgently and was an exemplary dad to Vindoo all through the latter’s hasty marriage to and hastier divorce from actress Farha (Tabu’s sis).
Vindoo and Farha have a son who is secularly named Fateh Singh as a doff to both his parents’ religions. He is of course being brought up by Farha according to her faith but the Dara Singh family has maintained a great equation with the child, even after Vindoo married a foreigner and has a daughter with her. Through it all, Dara kept the doors of Dara Villa open to his large family.
The rare actor to have been part of both the runaway serials Ramayan and Mahabharat, Dara Singh as Hanuman had prompted the film industry quip, “Didn’t know Lord Hanuman was a Punjabi,” since his accent never deserted him in all his 83 years.
There were many meetings that one had with Dara Singh but unforgettable was the very first interview with the legendary Rustom-e-Hind who was also bestowed with the world title. Frail and all of 17, I’d asked the 6-footer if it was true that he could lift a person with one hand.
“May I demonstrate,” Dara Singh had offered, flashing his dimples. Practically a vegetarian (except for the occasional chicken) which didn’t quite go well with his physically tough image, Dara Singh’s famous quote of the day was, “The elephant is also a vegetarian.”
RIP, gentle giant.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is editor, The Film Street Journal