At the ripe old age of 100, iconic Sikh marathoner Fauja Singh has one regret. He yearns to read his biography but cannot - he is illiterate.
As the book "Turbaned Tornado", penned by Chandigarh-based author Khushwant Singh, was formally launched at the Attlee Room of the House of Lords here Wednesday evening by Lord Anthony Young of Norwood Green and retired judge Sir Mota Singh, Fauja Singh was all smiles.
"I want to read my biography but unfortunately, I am illiterate," he said, lamenting the fact that he could not read his biography, published by Rupa.
"But on second thoughts, my life is in front of my eyes like a reel, so I don't need to read it," Fauja Singh told IANS here.
At the book launch, organised by the Britain-based Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail (ASHT), he appeared bright and inspired as he fondly hugged his biographer Khushwant Singh, 38.
"When I shifted to the UK I did not know that my life would take such a turn," said Fauja Singh, who lives in London's Ilford area and has participated in several international marathon runs.
"It is a matter of great privilege to have got the opportunity to write Fauja Singh's authorised biography," the author Khushwant Singh told IANS.
"Fauja has given a new meaning to the words endurance, aspiration and will power. Dictionaries would have to re-explain these words since Fauja had added a whole new dimension to them," Khushwant Singh said, addressing the gathering at the launch.
John Athwal, winner of the 2011 Asian of the Year, said: "Fauja Singh is an inspiration for everyone. Whilst there were countless professionals, entrepreneurs, doctors, accountants who have origins from Punjab, Fauja was unique among all."
Born April 1, 1911, at Beas Pind in Punjab's Jalandhar district, age has not been a barrier for Fauja Singh.
The death of his son Kuldip and earlier of his wife forced him to search for a worthwhile alternative in life. At 89 years, he took seriously to running and ended up in international marathon events like the London, Glasgow, Toronto ones.
Having become the world's oldest half marathon runner at 99 in May last year when he ran the Inter-Faith Marathon in Luxembourg, Fauja Singh, whose name means a soldier, is a one-man army who wants to keep running till he drops.
ASHT director Harbinder Singh said: "Fauja Singh is the embodiment of so many of the enduring qualities which have defined the Sikhs. Fauja Singh's contribution to elevating the profile of Sikhs is beyond expression and his feats have left an indelible mark on many lives."
"He is a unique man. He started running at an age when people actually hang up their boots. It is unique that he could be the only man who is alive at 100 years to see his biography being published," Khushwant Singh said.
The book's cover shows a smiling Fauja Singh running in his flowing white beard.
He has rubbed shoulders with the likes of football star David Beckham as brand ambassador and poster-boy of leading footwear company Adidas for their international campaign. Billboards featuring him used to be displayed on busy London streets at one time.
Khushwant Singh, who had profiled Fauja Singh in 2005 while working on "Sikhs Unlimited", was asked by the marathoner's coach Harmander Singh to write a biography "to commemorate 100 years of the living legend".
Even at this ripe age, Fauja Singh, who got a congratulatory telegram from Queen Elizabeth when he turned 100 in April, does not want to give up his latest love - running.
"When he first turned up for training at Redbridge-Essex, he was dressed in a three-piece suit. The coach had to rework everything, including his dress!" Khushwant Singh said.
Fauja Singh ran his first race, the London Marathon, in 2000. He was well-known in his village for running "from one place to another", old-timers in his village recount.