The taxi-driver who wanted immortality

Aug 28, 2018, 06:05 IST | C Y Gopinath

Tarachand Saggar wanted only thing all his life - immortality

The taxi-driver who wanted immortality
Illustration/Uday Mohite

C Y GopinathFifteen minutes of fame. That was last week's story. You met Sochi, Angelina Jolie's taxi driver while she filmed 'First they killed my father' in Cambodia. But long before Sochi, there was another taxi driver called Tarachand Saggar, another seeker after immortality. He rests in peace now, somewhere in Delhi, not immortal but not quite unknown either, but his story and mine have been interwoven since I was 22.

I first met him in Calcutta. I was a reporter in The Statesman's iconic youth magazine, JS, in charge of finding interesting snippets of real life for the inside cover. Word came to me that someone waiting in the lobby was claiming he could lift weights with his hair. Tarachand looked like some muscular creature from a Greek myth. The face had an Apollonian hauteur, and his forehead could have been a seer's, wide and horizonless. A man equal parts leprechaun, jester and gutter rat. From his temples two oily locks of curly hair hung down about six inches.

He had brought along progressive weights up to 125 kgs, some of which he fastened to his locks with a complex knot and hoisted 75 kgs a foot off the ground. I challenged him to lift our chief sub-editor, who weighed about 85 kgs. Tarachand did, easily, and then a second time while he held 10 kgs in his lap. A circus lady he had once loved had taught him the formula for the secret oils that strengthened hair, as well as the knot for fastening weights to it.

I wrote a small piece on Tarachand and forgot about him — till he appeared a week later. "Sir," he said deferentially, "as far as I know, no one else in India can do this. My power is unique in this country, and that makes India unique in the world. Don't I deserve more than two paragraphs in your unknown publication?"

I asked him what he had in mind. He had it all worked out. "What about sending a letter to the Ganesh Recording book? I'm sure they would love me." It took me a moment to figure out what book he was referring to. Next week, I wrote to the Guinness Book of Records, making a strong case that lifting weights with the hair was a world record, and included testimonials, photographs and press clippings. But they didn't bite: a letter a fortnight later argued rather circularly that since no one had lifted weights with their hair before, Tarachand could not be compared with anyone and so could not be called the best at what he was doing.

By now, I was obsessed with making Tarachand famous. Going down the pecking order, I wrote to Ripley's Believe It Or Not. After all, they gave you the option not to believe the junk they published. True to form, they eagerly accepted the offering. A small item appeared in one of their books: "Believe it or not, Tarachand Saggar, a taxi-driver in India, can lift up to 95 kgs with his hair."

They sent me a clipping, and I shared it with Tarachand, proud to have gotten him worldwide attention. But he was just getting warmed up. He had in mind nothing less than national recognition. "I feel we can make a strong case for declaring me a national treasure with a pension for life. What do you think, sir? Is it fair that I die unknown despite such an amazing gift?"

I am always game to enter unmapped territory. I wrote to Mrs Gandhi personally making a case for Tarachand Saggar to be catapulted into the national limelight for weightlifting with his hair. But two months later came a polite, tactful rejection letter from the Prime Minister's Office. I lost touch with Tarachand when I left Calcutta, but a few years later, in a kabadiwalla shop in Mumbai, I noticed a young man with two Tarachand-like locks of hair. True enough, he was the protégé of old Tarachand, now close to death on a charpoy in a back room. In the guru-chela tradition, he was passing on his skill to this young man.

We greeted each other warmly but that was the last time I set eyes on Tarachand. However, I did make him immortal. In my first novel, The Book of Answers, Tarachand, under his real name, is a protagonist who lifts weights with his hair and wants to die famous — but the difference is that in my story he does become a celebrity godman with a book of answers straight from God and and doubles as the wingman of a very corrupt Prime Minister. Sometimes, watching Baba Ramdev, I confess I do wonder if Tarachand read my book in his afterlife, and got inspired to come back as a yoga-teaching godman.

Here, viewed from there. CY Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at cygopi@gmail.com Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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