‘While we told Dingko Singh about opponent’s style, he’d only tell us ‘Sahib, main karega”

'When I first heard the news of Dingko’s death, I was thinking about how he had been dodging cancer for the last four years and we had hoped that he will defeat this enemy fighting, like all the five rounds in the boxing when he played,' writes Gurbax Singh Sandhu, former Indian boxing chief coach.

In the age of the old system of scoring, there were rarely any Indian boxers who would go for the kill right from the first round. Dingko Singh was one such boxer and his swift feet movement coupled with accurate punches helped him beat any boxer on his day. When I first heard the news of Dingko’s death, I was thinking about how he had been dodging cancer for the last four years and we had hoped that he will defeat this enemy fighting, like all the five rounds in the boxing when he played.

There are some boxers who remain cool despite being aggressive but Dingko was a boxer, who displayed both anger and aggression openly. A lot of times, I and foreign coach BI Fernandez had to spend time with him making him convert the anger into the right kind of aggression. I don’t know whether that anger came due to being an orphan but whatever life threw at Dingko, he fought like a champion even in his last years.

When Dingko won the best boxer award in the Kings Cup in Thailand in 1997, we sat with him and worked on his left punches apart from aiming for a left hook mixed with a right hook. And he would only tell us that ‘Sir, I will do that and I will beat him (The opponent)’. He displayed no fear in his eyes and the only time I saw him devastated was when his name was struck off by the IOA and Sports Ministry due to whatever reasons a day ahead of the Indian contingent’s departure for 1998 Asian Games.

The day before departure when the decision to drop him was announced, Dingko drank a lot and it was surprising to hear that since he was always a disciplined boxer. But rejection hurt him to the extent that he headed towards the Railway tracks about one and half km from NIS, Patiala to attempt suicide.

Some NIS officials and boxers spotted him. I had been visiting a Gurudwara near Patiala to pay my obeisance prior to the team’s departure as I always did. I told them to get Dingko in a room with two of my trainees. On my way back, I talked with Mr Ashok Kumar Mattoo and told him that this boy has to go and he has the aggression and talent to win the medal at Bangkok. We spent the whole night with Dingko and the next day, when he was included, it was a big relief.

Dingko had been so angry with life and the decision, that we as coaches worried about him. When his name was included after the officials intervened, perhaps this made him determined to prove a point in Bangkok. We had studied the opponents and while we told Dingko about the opponent’s style, he would only tell us, ‘Sahib, main karega’. Perhaps that came from his Army training or the days spent in the orphanage, which helped him learn how to face the world.

When he knocked out the Uzbek boxer Timur Tulyakov in the fourth round in the final, I could see the joy in his eyes. He would address me and Fernandez as Sahib and would scream, “Sahib, maine bola tha kar diya,” in broken Hindi sentences he knew at that time. Later that year, he suffered a wrist injury. Even though he underwent an operation, it did hamper him a little. At the Sydney Olympics, he lost to eventual bronze medallist Serhiy Danylchenko and he had the caliber to win an Olympic medal.

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Once he retired, he would play and later coach the Indian Navy team and was based on INS Hamla in Malad, Mumbai. We would often meet him during the nationals with the Services team and he would make it a point to tell his trainees about us. Whenever a boxer from Indian Navy came in the national camp, Dingko would send his wishes for us and it was heartening to see him work as a coach.

A lot of people term Dingko as an aggressive person or as treating coaches rudely. But I believe that a Lion is not meant to be in a cage. As coaches, we learnt how to manage Dingko. The only thing which irritated him was coaches telling him things for hours and he would just nod. But he also knew that we are thinking for his good. He was one of the lions of Indian boxing and remains one of the best bantamweight boxers the country has seen.

Gurbax Singh Sandhu, a former Indian boxing chief coach for more than 26 years since 1990, spoke to Nitin Sharma.

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