It was a warm afternoon on the first day (10th March 2016) of the 36th National Masters Athletic Championship, at the Guru Gobind Singh Sports College Ground in Lucknow. For those unaware about ‘Masters’, it’s another word for ‘veterans’, with veteran defined as over the age of 30. At this championship,track and field events were held for men and women in 5-year age-groups (30+, 35+, 40+… 85+).
Post-lunch, the track was scheduled to see the 100m run for men and women for some of the age-group categories. Many of us who had no event just hung around at the ground to see the fastest oldies in action.
As the 85+ men dashed off, someone in the crowd mentioned that a 118-year old man was in the line up. He had taken part in some marathons as well. Seriously!? I was aware that Holocaust survivor Yisrael Kristal was supposed to be the oldest living man at 112. Anyhow, 118 or whatever, sprinting in one’s old age is phenomenal. I ran to the finish line to check out the old man. He was the lanky one with the turban… the one in a 6-feet something wiry body frame that served as a perfect hanger for his yellow T-shirt.
“Congratulations on your run sir. How old are you sir?”, I asked. “One one eight… ekh sau atara” was the reply. Dharam Pal Singh Gurjar (as he signs his name) was timed at about 25 seconds, but he suspected this to be a few seconds over. 20 is what he was expecting he said. He was visibly disappointed at not finishing in the top three. Still, he willingly obliged to sign autographs and pose for photographs with everyone who asked.
As we prepared to sit down on the grass, Dharam Pal Singh laid out his flex mat. His loyal friends felt that as he had taken part with men 35-odd years younger (85+ was the last category), he needed to be separately recognised. This wish was finally fulfilled by the organisers. It was evident that the old man was used to special treatment wherever he went, and I guess no one would deny him this. Anything for a 118 year old man!
Is he really 118? Proof was at hand. He and his friends showed us Passport, PAN card, Voter ID. Date of birth – 6th Oct 1897, meaning he lived through the whole 20th century! He doesn’t have a birth certificate though, and in the absence of reliable historical records, his name does not figure in the old people lists. In this day, there surely must be some test (like carbon dating) to get an estimate of biological age.
Even if he is less than 118 years old, say 100, Dharam Pal Singh is extremely sharp. He ensured that all the docs he showed us were put back in his hands and safely stored away. He was happy to talk about his fitness and diet – the two things that everyone must be asking him about. The secret of his longevity – his special chutney, comprising a number of leaves such as peepal, tulsi, neem (and others that I can’t recall).
One can read more about this amazing athlete on his wiki page. With over a century behind him, running is his life. He lives to run!
[If you’re wondering what I was doing at this meet, I was a part of the Maharashtra team. Took part in the 45-49 yrs age group category, winning gold in 80m hurdles, and bronze in 100m, 5km walk and 4x400m relay.]