Book Review: ‘Turbaned Tornado’

Turbaned Tornado: Run, Fauja! Run!
Reviewed by Arcopol Chaudhuri*

Turbaned Tornado is the biography of the oldest marathon runner in the world, Fauja Singh. Fauja’s birth would have been a joke today – his date of birth is 1 April – and having turned 100 this year, he is clearly the celebrated flag-bearer of the Indian and Sikh community globally, having battled ridicule (he was mocked as a Bin-Laden look-alike) and won praise and appreciation (the blondes hug him fully and cheer him along), not just from his community members but also from leaders like Pervez Musharraf and the Queen of England. Fauja is one of the front-runners (excuse the pun) to represent England at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012.
The book is fascinating to learn about the incredible courage and spirit of this man and his life story, clearly would also make for a spectacular film.
Singh, in his 100th year, is old enough to sit at home and count his days, but instead chooses to run the most challenging of marathons in Europe to raise money for charity. “I can either walk or sleep. The moment I sit idle, I will die,” he says.
Once a poster boy for Adidas, he truly lives their tagline, ‘Impossible Is Nothing’. What else can explain this peculiar phenomenon: With each passing year, Fauja is beating his every past running records, a feat that seems unbelievable after one takes a fleeting look at his long, skinny legs and frail figure. Look harder and you’ll see a determination worthy of Robert Frost’s poetry. This man indeed has miles to go before he sleeps.
Khushwant Singh, Fauja’s biographer is sincere in capturing what makes Fauja the man he is, through rigorous interviews with him, his coach Harmander Singh and family members.
At a mere 112 pages, this book succeeds in making Fauja’s story far more accessible than a tome. Singh’s narration of the centurion’s life is simple, linear and full of ‘Faujanomics’, a term he’s coined to capture the beliefs of the marathon runner. There’s plenty of trivia that passionate runners and marathon enthusiasts will find handy – like Fauja’s habit of scrubbing his body with baby oil every morning, his absolute disregard for gymnasiums (“they don’t nourish the body and soul together”) and his inexplicable fetish for branded shoes (Puma is the best for marathons, he says).
Some of Singh’s touches are beautiful, e.g. parts where he quotes Fauja in Punjabi. It lends an incredible amount of authenticity to his entire work, besides a touch of wicked humor (“Bush dey chakkar wich tussi baba maar lena hai!”, he says describing an incident when he was about to meet George Bush, but wasn’t satisfied with the food served to him.
If the first half of Turbaned Tornado serves as an inspiration, the concluding half is a handy guide to turn that inspiration to action. There’s a detailed regimen for aspiring marathon runners with instructions about what runners must do on a day-to-day basis to become fit enough and participate with a gusto similar to that of Fauja. This guide will appeal to people across ages and has some incredible learnings.
I certainly recommend that you buy a copy of Turbaned Tornado. It’s an easy read, a meaningful one at that, and doesn’t take long to finish. I like Singh’s attempt at keeping the writing and narration simple and lucid, which incidentally are qualities that resonate with Fauja’s own life. The prescription pages for aspiring long distance runners, are what this book a must-have. That’s almost like getting to know ki Sachin Tendulkar kaunsi chakki ka aata khaata hai.

* Arcopol Chaudhuri lives on a paperback diet. When not reading, he steers online marketing for uRead.com and hunts for authors who have an interesting story to tell.

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