I got out of Seven Kings train station on the London network, and as I came up and asked for directions to Gurudwara Singh Saheb, I was pointed in the wrong way.
My purpose of going to the Gurudwara was to meet with the legendary Mr. Fauja Singh, who very kindly consented to write the foreword to our book ‘Unstoppable’.
I had wanted to meet him personally and give him a couple of copies of the book for his reference and also get some copies autographed by him as a treasured memory. As I kept walking towards the direction the Gurudwara coming straight ahead of me was an elderly Sikh gentleman, formally dressed and walking in full stride. As he came closer it became apparent, the legendary Mr. Fauja Singh was walking in my direction.
I went up to him and I asked, “Are you, Mr. Fauja Singh?”
He replied, “Yes.”
And I said, “I am Mr. Venkatraman I am the person who is coming to meet you.”
He replied, ” Buddhe ko aap ne pechan liya” ( your immediately recognised the old man ) showing his sense of humour was still sparkling.
We hit off very well with each other. He asked me what am I doing heading in the wrong direction when he was in fact heading towards the Gurudwara to be on time to meet me.
Our meeting was scheduled to be at 1:30 pm and he wanted to reach there by 12:30 pm. I too wanted to reach there earlier so that I did not keep him waiting. Both of us were trying to reach early so that we did not let down the other.
I have seen him personally at Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2016, run with him, taken photos with him. But this was the first time I was interacting with him on a one to one basis. I turned around and started walking with him towards Gurdwara. To give you an idea of how much spring he has in his step for a Centurion here is a video.
We chatted all along the way. He spoke in Punjabi and I replied back in Hindi, I could understand little of his Punjabi but he could understand all my Hindi. My first impression was that for a 102-year-old man he has the mental capability and physical agility of somebody probably 50 years younger than him. We cracked jokes, he talked about his family.
I asked him why he had stopped running and he remarked with a slight grin, “main toh abhi buddha ho gaya hoon.” ( I have become old now ) Imagine somebody at 102 yrs telling you that. Makes most of us feel very young, definitely.We arrived at the Gurudwara and I removed my shoes. He took out the temporary head covering that is a custom for entering the Gurudwara and stepping behind me, tied it for me. After that he insisted that I have the langar food. I took one portion of the langar then I went again for 2nd helpings and as I was finishing, he went and brought me a cup of tea and insisted I have the tea too. He sat next to me kept chatting with me and the other community members.
With a full stomach, I then got up and we went to the meeting hall. He looked at the book he liked it a lot. He was happy to hear about the other stories. He was however disappointed I had not put his photo in the book. (note to myself: next edition include photo of Mr. Fauja Singh)
I asked him to autograph copies and he very willingly autographed all the copies I put in front of him. After we did this he asked me very jokingly, “Arre! You have not brought any gift for me?” I was to gift him copies of the book for his personal keeping. But he instead told me to give one copy to the Gurudwara for their library. He also showed me a complete wall with his paper cuttings and photos etc…he is apparently well revered by its members.
I decided that I should give a monetary donation to the common fund of the Gurudwara and I went into the Gurudwara and deposited a handsome sum of money into the offering box. He was very happy and the Gurudwara members were also very happy.
After taking a selfie with him, I left about an hour and a half having met possibly the greatest athlete in the world.
To read the foreword and also 9 stories of ‘Unstoppable’ runners order it online from here