Runner’s read
Amit Khanna

As Turbaned Tornado, the first official biography of half marathon runner Fauja Singh, is set for release, here’s a look at the life and legacy of the ‘Sikh Superman’

Fauja Singh at a marathon in Edinburgh
Fauja Singh at a marathon in Edinburgh Photo courtesy: Harmander Singh

Fauja’s 100th birthday cake and his running shoes
Fauja’s 100th birthday cake and his running shoes

HE does not regret many things. That’s not in his DNA basically. But, of late, there has been one thing that has been teasing the world’s oldest half marathon runner, Fauja Singh. "I want to actually read (the book). It would have been better had I paid heed to my elder’s advice and done some schooling, too. But then not many people studied in my time and I surely know studying is not as much fun as running." A professed illiterate, Fauja completed 100 years on April 1 this year. "I may be an illiterate and do not know how to read or write anything, but now I have a book written on me. Is it not great?" he says with the indomitable spirit, which is the hallmark of this enviable personality.

Turbaned Tornado, the first official biography of the proud Sikh will be launched at a reception in the House of Lord’s in England on July 7.

Chandigarh-based author Khushwant Singh has lucidly penned down the account of this compulsive runner. Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail (ASHT) is organising the function to celebrate the enigma that Fauja, or ‘Fauju,’ as he is fondly called by his friends, has turned into.

Born in April 1911 to Mehr Singh and Bhago Kaur, Fauja went to England in 1995 and is now settled there. Ask him how he thought of running in marathons at an age most people do not even reach and the answer is as simple as that. "I could do two things. Either sleep or run. I chose the latter." Fauja took to running when he was 89.

"I was pleasantly surprised and confused also when he approached me for the first time. It was somewhere in October or November 1999. He told me he nurtured a dream to be the world’s oldest runner. I took up the challenge and the rest is history," says Harmander Singh, Fauja’s coach in England.

"There were many changes needed in his diet, routine work and exercise regimen. What amazes me is his determination and that is what sets him apart. Even a young international athlete has, at the most five years, of peak time, but it has already been six years that Fauja has been running and there are no signs of slowdown." Harmander has also coached Buster Martin, who claims to be 104 years’ old and hence the oldest in the business. However, Martin’s age has been in dispute, which makes our Fauja the oldest half marathon runner.

Says writer Khushwant Singh: "Somebody had to really chronicle Fauja and his feats and I feel honoured to have been given the opportunity. I met Fauja first in 2005 and was immensely impressed by his persona. I was working on my first book Sikhs Unlimited at that time. I decided to add a write-up on this legend in Sikhs Unlimited. I met him again in May 2010 and this was the time Harmander, Fauja’s coach, asked me if I could write a book to commemmorate the runner’s 100 years. The process has been a great learning experience for me and the book will provide an insight into the life of one of the greatest real-life success stories."

Unconscious of his stardom and equally unmindful of the service he has done to the world, this ‘Sikh Superman’ or ‘Running Baba’ is as humble as one can be. "I would not have achieved whatever little I have without Harmander. I thank God for making me meet him. I am nothing without him," says he at the mention of his coach’s name.

The 5" 8’-inch living legend is a one-man army and thus aptly named Fauja. The inspiration he provides to millions of youngsters is his greatest contribution. ‘Oldest running for the youngest’ was thus rightly the theme of one of the marathons he took part in. A great grandfather to six and grandfather to 14, he has literally run his name into the history books he humbly admits he cannot read.

book & beyond

For somebody who could not walk till the age of five and had difficulty walking properly till the age of 15, to run a marathon at the ripe age of 99 was no mean achievement. The book chronicles this great journey, which now has been a source or huge inspiration to people of all ages all over the globe. 

"I believe in giving back to the world whatever God has bestowed me with, with the sole purpose to help people achieve what they think is impossible. If I can motivate others, there is no greater joy to me," says Fauja Singh, the one-time Adidas poster boy.