The Gabbar Singh that Ramesh Sippy missed

The Gabbar Singh that Ramesh Sippy missed

Nehrus 59 bday gift

Just desserts: Gabbar Singh

Between 3 and 4 pm. November 13, 1959. Leading a posse of policemen, R P Modi, a wiry, 26-year-old Madhya Pradesh deputy superintendent of police had surrounded a small band of dacoits at Ghum-Ka-Pura village, in a saucer-like depression between the national highway and the narrow gauge railway line, in Bhind district. Darkness was about to set in. Advancing cautiously, taking shelter in the rugged and rocky knolls of the Chambal ravines, they fired intermittently from Enfield rifles. Before long, they had shot dead 11 of the bandits. The last to go down was Gabbar Singh Gujar, a part of his face blown up by shrapnels from a grenade that Modi had hurled at him. In the twilight, hundreds of people watched from atop buses the police operation that felled Gabbar, the gang leader.

Modi was no Thakur Baldev Singh, but Gabbar Singh was real; the police operation was as dramatic as the scene in which the Thakur crushes Gabbar Singh’s face with his nail-studded ‘jooti’ in Ramesh Sippy’s blockbuster ‘Sholay’.

Yes, Gabbar Singh indeed; not of ‘Sholay’ fame and definitely not the fictional character that Amjad Khan played with aplomb. Sippy’s Gabbar was picked from Tarun Coomar Bhaduri’s book ‘Abhisapta Chambal’ (The Accursed Chambal).

Today is the 50th anniversary of the dreaded ‘nose-chopper’ dacoit of the famed Chambal. The ‘real’ Gabbar, or Gabra as he was known among his gang members, was born in a Gujar family, in a small village in Bhind district, in 1926.

Obdurate, wayward and a vagabond ever since his childhood days, Gabbar took to brigandry in his early twenties.

Gabbar’s stories of infamy and wanton cruelty are chronicled in a book ‘The British, The Bandits and The Bordermen’, which is based on the diaries of K F Rustamji, the then Madhya Pradesh inspector general of police who planned and launched the operation against Gabbar. The book was edited by another IPS officer P V Rajgopal.
Speaking to Deccan Herald, Rajgopal, who worked for the Research and Analysis Wing in the late-eighties said: “The real Gabbar, like the character in Sholay, was ruthless, cruel and had a penchant for chopping off the noses of those who informed on him to the police” — acts reminiscent of Sholay’s Gabbar who shot the Thakur’s grandchildren beside chopping off his hands.

According to Rajgopal, sometime in 1957, Bhind’s Gabbar, codenamed G-4, lined up 22 children and shot them “because somebody from the village, of which the children were residents, had reported him to the police”. Rustamji’s book says that Gabbar Singh was told by a tantric that he would be immortal if he chopped off the noses of 116 children and offered them to the deity he worshipped. He could manage to disfigure the faces of 19. One can imagine the fear that Gabbar struck in the hearts of Bhind’s mothers, similar to the film’s “pachas pachas kos dur jab bachcha rota hai to ma kehti hai so ja nahin to Gabbar aajyega...”

Unlike Sholay’s Gabbar, Gabra was corpulent, with lion-like mane and mien and grizzled beard. Rajgopal believes there was a “remarkable resemblance” between Amjad Khan who immortalised the Gabbar character, and Gabbar of Bhind. But like Bhind’s Gabbar, Sippy’s namesake wore police khakis, strung a belt of cartridges across his chest and strode the hills of the Chambal on foot and horse.
At the height of his brigandry, the MP police had declared a reward of Rs 20,000 on Gabbar, the UP cops had declared another Rs 20,000 and the Rajasthan police Rs 10,000 — “pooray pachas hazaar” as in Sholay.

A day after Gabbar Singh’s death (Nov 14, 1959), while wishing Jawaharlal Nehru on his birthday, Rustamji is believed to have said: “Sir, on your birthday, my police force and I gift you with the news of Gabbar Singh’s death.” Nehru, according to Rajgopal, had personally ordered the MP police chief to eliminate the dacoits of Chambal.

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