Samarth Pratap Singh

For Samarth (From Arjun)

My life in boarding school as a mostly unconfident young teenager could not have got any better since the day Samarth Pratap Singh joined tabla class. From that day on, just even the fact that Samarth practiced tabla along side me for a couple of hours every week became reason enough for me find a surer footing on the grounds of Welham Boys’ School and to look forward to everyday with a confidence that made me less afraid, and more sure of myself. It was all because I felt like now Samarth had my back, though all we had exchanged in our first tabla class together was a friendly shove that Samarth gave to all his fans in school with a twinkle in his eyes, especially the younger ones! Such was my confidence in Samarth!

I have not known many men as loved, respected, admired, and inspiring a collective confidence like Samarth did. Yes, he was one of the greatest champions on the sports field, but also off it. Samarth always stepped up when times were tough, on the field or off it. And this went deep into my bones as a young boy and even as an adult now, when the wind in my sails stop blowing and I look about for inspiration, a breeze often picks up and reminds me of Samarth — even just saying that name sends a spark of electricity through my being — charging down the basketball court and the entire school roaring, or bringing a calming order to a gathering of hundreds of middle to high school boys in times of crisis, without shouting (any more than for the purpose of his having his voice heard across a large space) or using any intimidating force of any kind, but instead with his familiar confidence and the vulnerability of his humanity in full display: everybody respected him, it is as simply powerful as that.

For me, Samarth is one person I have known in flesh and blood who possessed, in a profound coherence, the physical strength of Hercules and the loving radiance of Siddhartha Gautama. And this is why, when he sat beside me to play tabla, a wide smile came across my face and I sat a little more erect and confident, and instead of looking down at my feet, looked up and around a little bit more.

My heart feels heavy and sad to know that Samarth is no more. He passed away on July 5th, 2019. Samarth has never left my side since he sat down beside me to play tabla. That shove he gave me on our first meeting developed into a friendship, but somewhere deep inside I continued to feel like I was more in the grace of his profound coherent strength than in the familiar space of friendship, and, therefore, every meeting with him was special for me. We all need a role model for the coherent strength of the heart, mind, and body that works together in such a way that it deeply moves us. Samarth was such a role model for not just me, but hundreds of young boys and girls.

My friend Sidharth has so powerfully noted for all the young boys and girls inspired by Samarth that “With Samarth the graph stayed so constant that we took him for granted. He was the benchmark.” Following is Sidharth’s  memoir for Samarth and his own story of his special bond with Samarth.

For Samarth (From Sidharth)

Sad news came in last night of the sudden demise of our dear friend Samarth Pratap Singh in Dehradun. While talking to Salim on the phone, I recalled meeting Samarth on my very first day at Welham Boys’ School in March 1987. His younger sister Priyanka Singh and I were together in Class 1 and he’d come to the classroom to check on her. We happened to be sitting at the same table and for some strange reason, Samarth mistook me for a Sidharth he knew from Marshall’s School, where he’d studied earlier. For a stranger reason, I played along.

Through the next few years, whenever we’d cross paths, Samarth would give me a friendly shove, as a reminder of our special bond and say, ‘Hum dono Marshall’s ke gunday hain.’ Having invested in this untruth from the start, I never found the opportunity to clarify it until we met again, in our mid-twenties, hanging out in Bombay, when I told him that I was never actually at Marshall’s. We had a good laugh and he gave me another friendly shove.

This is what I first thought of when Salim told me about Samarth collapsing on the squash courts at Doon Club last evening. What had happened thirty years ago in that classroom seemed vivid and real, while yesterday still seems like a bad dream.

I last met him a few years ago at Manavjit’s house in Juhu. Samarth returned upstairs after a long game of badminton. I offered him a drink but he went down on the floor and pumped fifty push-ups instead and said, ‘now I’m feeling normal brother.’ Later, we had a drink (maybe he didn’t) and talked. He enjoyed working on the ship, doing mechanical work with his hands. He enjoyed being home in Dehradun with his family. He still watched early morning NBA games. He enjoyed taking long rides on his motorbike. But most of all, he enjoyed being in the sporting arena where he could express himself freely.

It’s hard to digest that he’s no longer among us, but only fitting that he went doing what he loved the most, playing sport. As Charles said, ‘It’s sad that this happened to him. We need more people like Samarth in the world, who are such a positive inspiration to others.’ With Samarth the graph stayed so constant that we took him for granted. He was the benchmark.

All that remains now to deal with the brutal reality of his loss, are memories and fragments of emotion. Some will heal, others will coalesce into new forms, but underneath it all will remain a void that can never be filled. It will stay attached to our hearts, with the rough edges of unsaid goodbyes and unfinished dreams.