NEW DELHI: More than half a century. That’s the time span that separates the birth date of these two India greats. One is 85, the other 34. One, who could do everything on a cricket field in his prime, the other who still holds dominion inside a square ring.
Of course, both could use a hook to flatter a varied audience. Salim Durani hasn’t lost that spark of a charmer. Vijender Singh is no less charismatic. Who would mind if the stage is set that way? Cricket and boxing can take a backseat, to let the Pathan-Jat combination drive the occasion.
It was in Masoodpur. The occasion was the opening of a hospital. Durani was staying over for the occasion. Support belt on, the former all-rounder lives through a back illness these days. Vijender had arrived to join Durani to do the honours.
Durani waited in his room until the minute before the function began. “Unki back mei thodi problem hai. Ek do baar photo khichvane ke liye khade hue the bas (he has a back problem, got up just once or twice for photographs),” Vijender, still the only Indian male boxer to win an Olympic medal, told TimesofIndia.com.
“We didn’t talk much about sport, but boy, that blazer,” Vijender quickly took the conversation to word a picture of what he saw.
Durani had brought his 1959-60 India blazer for the occasion. Vijender was in his customary casual mode — a black T-shirt and blue jeans.
“Ek time tha hum bhi achha perform karte the,” Vijender quoted Durani, who evidently mixed modesty with a dash of chutzpah. “Unhone bataya ‘1959 mei mujhe Arjuna Award mila tha’ (he said that he got the Arjuna award in 1959).”
It was 1961 actually when Durani became the first cricketer to receive the Arjuna.
Vijender was awarded the Arjuna in 2006 and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2009.
The amateur turned professional boxer clearly enjoyed being in the presence of the Indian cricket legend who played 29 Tests for India between 1960 and 1973, scoring 2012 runs and taking 75 wickets.
“The blazer he (Durani) was wearing, history from 60 years ago, kya baat hai (it was amazing)…It caught my attention first of all, 1959-60 written on it. Mei keha ke sir mei photo karani hai (I want a picture with you having that blazer on).” Vijender revealed.
“He (Durani) then puffed his chest to highlight it (the badge),” Vijender recalled with a smile. “We didn’t talk much because of the restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, but whatever time I got to spend during my short visit, it will stay with me forever,” the so far unbeaten professional boxer told TimesofIndia.com.
Surely, it will. Durani and Vijender are not just fellow India sportsmen but also have had their time in Bollywood — an evidence of their ‘handsome hunk’ status.
Durani starred in two movies – Ek Masoom (1969) and Charitra (1973). But he will definitely be more proud of dismissing Gary Sobers and scoring a Test century besides having a Test match-haul of 10 wickets to his name.
Vijender got his silver-screen time in the 2014 movie ‘Fugly’.
“Uske baare mei bhi zyada baat nahi hui (didn’t walk much about our acting stints),” Vijender said before the conversation ended. “I was not there for long.”
POSSIBLE HOME FIGHT FOR VIJENDER IN DECEMBER
Waiting for his pandemic-forced break to end, Vijender, who turned to professional boxing in 2015, said it is likely that a ‘home’ fight may happen sometime in December.
“Talks are on. We are expecting a fight in December, either in Delhi or Jaipur…Will have to adhere to the (pandemic) guidelines or maybe (it will be telecast) online. Nothing has been decided yet,” he further told TimesofIndia.com.
Vijender currently holds a 12-0 unbeaten record in the professional circuit. In 2018, he signed with the Bob Arum-owned ‘Top Rank’, a professional boxing promotion company based in Las Vegas.