When Fauja Singh starts rambling away in his Punjabi, it's hard to stop him. Just like when he runs. During a routine television session with his son, Fauja first saw a sea of people running. Having lost his wife and another son, loneliness was a constant companion. Curiosity got the better of
him and at 88, the Turbaned Tornado was born. Today at 101 years, Fauja redefines marathon running that is often called an old man's sport.
"Mainu Bombay dekhna tha (I wanted to see Bombay)," he said at a press gathering in the city where he will be competing in the 4.3km senior citizen's run. "So I'm here." His biographer Khushwant Singh sits close to the suited centurion, lest he goes wandering again - both verbally and physically. "You know once he was in Mauritius for a run and he just disappeared," Khushwant informed. "We were sick worried and had to trace him. The farmer in him is alive and he loves to explore new lands."
Originally from Beas Pind in Punjab, Fauja now lives in England. But his heart is still in India and the complaints follow. "I wanted to visit my home here and I didn't like what I saw. When Punjab was poor, people were healthy. Now with all the wealth, everyone is just so unfit," he said, as he burst out, appreciating his own wisecrack.
The vest and track pants took time to get used to once he joined a group of like-minded octogenarians. But once the joy of running was realised, Fauja found a coach in Harmandar Singh, who guards his health and interests like a father. Running is serious business for his oldest ward after all.
Right after 9/11, Fauja ran the New York Marathon and collapsed after crossing the finish line. When photographers closed in on their celebrity, Fauja asked them to first pick him up and then take their shots. "It doesn't look good when you're on the ground at the finish you see," he said.
Another time, he had to be warned from refraining from a 'jhappi for the rani' on an invitation from Queen Elizabeth. Every penny of the money generated by Fauja goes to charity. When asked if any ailments bother him, he's quick to reply, "I can just about see the road in front of me. I don't have to take aim and shoot you know."
The exploration will continue until 2014 at the Hong Kong Marathon after which he plans on hanging up his boots. The words though will continue from a spirit that will hardly ever call it a day.