Joginder Singh, the first Kenyan Indian driver ever to win an international rally, and also the first to win the Safari Rally thrice, has died of heart failure in London, aged 81.
Famous as the 'Simba' or the lion of Kenya, Joginder Singh Bhachu won the world's toughest motor rally, the Safari, in 1974 and 1976 competing against the best of rally drivers from across the world when this event was part of the World Rally Championship.
A much-loved hero of all Kenyans, he died poignantly Sunday, when Kenya celebrated Mashujaa (Heroes) Day. Fondly known as 'The Flying Sikh', Joginder Singh was also a consultant for the Himalayan Rally and took part in this event as well.
Joginder first entered the Safari Rally with his brother Jaswant Singh as the co-driver in 1965 in a second hand Volvo which was earlier driven by Tom Trana in 1963 and 1964 and had already logged 42,000 km. The two Singh brothers drew number one position for the start, considered to be unlucky, but they remained in the lead throughout the event, making history.
Joginder was outstanding as one of 'the unsinkable seven' finishers of the 1968 event in which 74 crews started and only seven finished. The victors were also hailed as "The Magnificent Seven" after the Hollywood cowboy film released around this time. From then on, they got plenty of sponsorships and Joginder went on to win the World Rally Championship in 1974 and 1976.
Joginder's record of 19 finishes in 22 attempts is an unprecedented feat for the Safari Rally in which finishing itself was once considered as a great enough achievement. He was honoured as a special guest at the start of the 50th Safari Rally in 2002, and was appointed a patron of the Safari Classic in 2007. About 10 years ago, he developed problems with his heart and underwent by-pass surgery.
A veteran Safari Rally journalist, Shamlal Puri, wrote from London, "Joginder Singh has left behind a legacy that has charmed across continents and his powerful persona and escapades as a daredevil rally driver will probably never find an equal in another century, for none came even remotely close for decades after he hung his driving gloves."
Joginder achieved the legendary status of a national hero in an African country and remains unmatched as a rally driver who outclassed the best of the world during the '70s.
Kul Bhushan can be contacted at email@example.com