NEW DELHI, July 12: There was a time when India and Pakistan didn’t have nuclear-tipped missiles, and the Kashmir dispute was a staple fare in UN debates.

It was then that Indian boys and their Pakistani cousins expressed their national prowess by lining behind their iconic wrestlers. India’s Dara Singh, who died on Thursday in Mumbai days after a debilitating cardiac arrest, was one of those icons. He was 83.

Whether the Amritsar-born Dara ever got to fight a bout or two with any of the leading Pakistani wrestlers of the 1950s is curiously enough a matter of conjecture. Some narratives suggest that he was almost ready to take on Pakistan’s Bholu Pahalwan but probably could not find the time. Oral tradition suggests he vanquished one or two from across the border.

That one of the Pakistani wrestlers from the Gama or Bholu families defeated Dara Singh’s brother is as much a matter of a conjecture.

The story is complicated given the fact that the lore is crawling with assertions by wrestlers on either side of the border who claimed the title of Rustam-e-Hind. Dara Singh has carried that title from around the 1950s.

In the following decade he was acting in movies with Mumtaz as his lead heroine and though one of the taller female actors in Mumbai, she appeared ever so petite in Dara Singh’s muscular arms.

His Punjabi- accented Urdu dialogues as Sikandar-e-Azam were a treat for the connoisure and the fastidious movie-goer alike. His stern imperious declaration of love for the Indian princess — “Ma badaulat tumse mohabbat karta hoo’n” — symbolised a now fading flair for diction and language in Hindi/Urdu cinema.

In King Kong, a hugely successful black and white film from the 1960s, he was fighting a fire-breathing beast with bare hands that looked like a dinosaur prototype from an early forerunner of the Jurassic Park.

Dara Singh had been admitted to a Mumbai hospital on July 7 after a cardiac arrest, which had led to “significant brain damage”. He was taken off the ventilator, discharged from the hospital and taken home by his family on Wednesday after his condition failed to show improvement despite all the efforts by the doctors.

Doctors had given him very little chance of recovery, and his family wanted him to spend his last moments at home. The end came around 0730 hours on Thursday, sources said.

Born on Nov 19, 1928, at Dharmuchak in Amritsar district of Punjab to Surat Singh and Balwant Kaur, Dara Singh Randhawa had earned a formidable countrywide reputation as a wrestler before he started acting in Hindi films in 1962.

He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government in August 2003 for a six-year term.

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