Standing seven and a half feet tall and carrying a weight of one hundred and fifty-seven kilograms, eighty-two-year-old Ramkingkong was not your average Homosapien. He was more like an ancient Nephilim out of the book of Genesis from the Bible – a giant offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men.
The old behemoths real name was Ramkinkar Dey, born in 1910, in the Bikrampur Pargana (administrative unit) of the present-day Munshiganj district of Bangladesh, the birthplace of the Hindu dynasty Deva (meaning God) that ruled over eastern Bengal in the 12th – 13th century AD. Over the years surnames such as Dev, Deb, De or Dey came to represent lineages from this very dynasty of Devas or God-kings of men.
Soon after Ramkinkar’s birth, his parents were forced to leave their native place. They came and took up residence in a small rented room in the Lala Bagan area of North Kolkata. Their family’s displacement was triggered by a devastating economic situation brought upon by the threesome effect of famine, cholera and plague that killed around eight million people, five years before his birth in 1905 in the Bengal region.
When Ramkinkar was around twenty-three years of age, he was renamed through a not so momentous turn of an event. The year was 1933, and the iconic novel King Kong and its first movie two months later were released by the American film production and distribution company Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) Radio Pictures, Inc.
Young Ramkinkar had gone to see the movie with great enthusiasm at Calcutta’s first movie theatre Chaplin Cinema hall, built by Jamshedji Framji Madan three years before his birth in 1907, in Chowringhee Place.
At the end of the movie someone from the crowd had called out “Oi dakh, King Kong, Na Na, e je Ram-King-Kong – Hey look, King Kong, wait, no no it’s Ram-King-Kong,” and the name stuck with him since then.
With a chest size of 82 inches, he perhaps had the largest thorax among any non-obese man in recorded history. Spotting equally massive biceps of 24 inches even at such an old age, the non-pathological giant was a sight to behold. While a shiny hairless dome capped his wonderous looks, the pride of his features was a pair of an oiled and well-maintained thick white handlebar moustache – a fatter version of the kind adorned by the famous Spanish artist Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí.
Though not as noteworthy as fictional King Kong’s repute of being referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Ramkingkong gained his humble share of recognition during the early days of his life. He received fame as a bodybuilder, a strongman performer, and a physical instructor during the physical culture boom in India of the 1930s.
Before this, during the colonial times ran a common British sneer, mocking the Bengali race as “a low-lying people in a low-lying land.” To which an official had added, “though having the intellect of a Greek and the grit of a rabbit, the common Bengali is however effete.”
As an endeavour to break this badge of effeminate stereotype, Bengal experienced a rush of physical culture from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1930s. The patriotic youth of this Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group, the Bengalis, arose and strove to overcome this degeneracy through the pursuit of physical fitness.
With the benefits of physical culture and meditation made global by swami Vivekananda, Bengalis were emerging as the Übermensch of the time. Stalwarts in the field like Sri Aurobindo – the great Indian philosopher, Ramana Maharshi – the Sage of Arunachala, and later Bishnu Charan Ghosh who along with his son-in-law Buddha Bose toured the world from Europe to Japan to the USA popularising yoga, all contributed to creating the monolith of the mighty Bengali.
Ramkingkong was forged in this fascinating and inspiring cauldron of mental and physical culture and awareness.
Then came the IInd World War, and another deadly famine broke in Bengal in 1943 killing somewhere between two to three million people. It was a time when displaced and starved living skeletons roamed the streets of Kolkata wailing “Mago ektu khete dibi mago – Mother give us something to eat mother Oh!”
Ramkingkong who already was mentally scarred by his family’s displacement history, could not bear to see this sight of human suffering. He spent all his savings to feed and clothe hundreds of starving victims of this anthropogenic (man-made) calamity ravishing human souls.
When the famine ended, he was left penniless, and the only road to sustainability, led to him joining the British Indian Army, which was known for employing freaks like him to intimidate their foes.
At this time there were around 2.5 million Indians enlisted in this principal military force of the British Indian Empire. The British had always admired the metal of the Indian warrior classes, and right after the Indian Rebellion or Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, they actively started recruiting what they came to call as the ‘martial races’.
These exotic clans of Indian warriors were, namely, the Sikhs, Awans, Gakhars, and other Punjabi Musulmans, Baloch, Pashtuns, Marathas, Bunts, Nairs, Rajputs, Yadavs, Kumaonis, Gurkhas, Garhwalis, Janjuas, Maravars, Kallars, Vellalar, Dogras, Jats, Gurjar, Mahars and Sainis.
During Ramkingkong’s stint with the army, in the summer months of 1944, he even fought against the Japanese Imperial Army in the Battle of Imphal, as part of the 20th Indian Infantry Division under Major-General Douglas Gracey, and became a war hero too.
The average Japanese soldier who had culturally grown up fearing King Kong now faced the monster’s Indian version fighting in the mountain jungles of Nagaland. Hin name instilled fear within their ranks and they preferred seppuku or harakiri instead of dying at his hands crushed with his legendary wooden war Gada (fighting club or mace), nicknamed Bhima, which the Japs came to call as ‘Chimei-tekina mokusei no meisu – the deadly wooden mace.’
After the end of World war II in 1945, Ramkingkong left the army and came back to buy a small piece of land at the intersection of Haji Zakaria Lane and Raja Dinendra Street in North Calcutta. It is here that he opened his famous Akhara, a traditional Guru-shishya (mentor-disciple) bodybuilding and physical training school, a predecessor to the modern-day gym.
It was a time of great political turmoil. The Indian independence movement was at its final leg. Spanning for over ninety years from 1857, Indians finally got their freedom at the stroke of midnight on the 15th of August in 1947.
The British in all their shrewdness exercised their ruthless policy of ‘divide and rule’ before letting go of their precious ‘jewel in the crown’ the wealthy empire of India that it had been draining for nearly a century by then. As a last and final vindictive move, they divided the five-thousand-year-old rich civilisation of Bharat, into two independent dominion states of India and Pakistan.
The partition was more based on religion, rather than anything else. It involved the division of two provinces, Bengal and Punjab, based on district-wise non-Muslim or Muslim majorities. While the majority of Hindu’s now were a part of India, the minority Muslims were physically divided into West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), on both sides of the subcontinent.
This ‘Partition of India’ displaced around ten to twelve million people from all over the country. In a two-way mass exodus, the likes of which had perhaps not been seen in recorded history, people left their homes, loved ones, life and community to relocate in lands unknown to them.
During these shameful days, communal riots between Hindus and Muslims claimed more than two million lives, leaving the land and its people devastated. Hindu-Muslim neighbours who loved each other more than brothers and sisters, celebrating each other’s festivals now were raping and murdering amongst themselves.
It was a dark patch in human history, and Ramkingkong survived it too. He did his bit to offer protection to and save victims of the riot, Hindus and Muslims too. Then forty-five-years passed from the moment of Independence to Ramkingkong reaching his eighty-second birthday, on the morning of 7th December in the year 1992.
At the crack of dawn after opening his Akhara and doing his ritualistic exercises and other morning chores, Ramkingkong walked over to Natu’s tea stall at the opposite side of the road. It was his daily habit to munch on two pieces of the famous sugarcoated Projapoti Biskoot, a local patty like biscuit manufactured by the highly skilled Muslim bakers from a recipe centuries old.
Dipping the Biskoots in a small glass of sugarless Laal Cha (red tea) the oldtimer opened the mornings Anandabazar Patrika, Calcutta’s favourite Bengali daily, from which the average bong soaked news to form his million views.
Turning to the second page of the newspaper his face turned red. He puffed and fumed looking at the image of a voluptuous fitness model in a single piece skimpy skin-tight exercising dress, cat-walking on a state-of-the-art treadmill in a futuristic gym room surrounded by hundreds of dollars of multi-gym-ing equipment.
The newspaper ad was for ‘BOLD BODS fully airconditioned Multigym and Fitness Parlour’ a new physical training establishment that had come up a few lanes from Ramkingkong’s Akhara.
The young Muslim entrepreneur Karim Baksh in his late forties had returned from the middle eastern state of Qatar along with his wife, two daughters and lots of money. Originally from Kolkata, he had left the city twenty years ago to earn a living working in the oil fields of the Persian Gulf state. His dream had finally come true a year back when he returned to the city of joy and opened the Bold Bods gym to earn a decent living and possibly some fame.
Karim and his followers had many a time casually mocked Ramkingkong for wasting a good piece of property by running a useless gym. Baksh had made several offers to the giant to buys off his Akhara. The oldtimer had always refused, as he wanted to hold on to this piece of history from the 1930s that had played a vital role in planting the seed of fitness in the minds of many youths.
Karim was a good person, an honest and helpful Muslim, but he could not see any use for Ramkingkong’s ancient Akhara in the 21st century. He was forward-thinking and modern and belonged to the future-school. He really wanted to help the old giant financially by buying off the Akhara from him at the best possible price. His intentions were good but both of them disagreed with their individual ancient and modern views.
Ramkingkong brooded and mulled over the newspaper ad. He looked at it with disgust and a sense of defeat. How could his handful of loincloth adorned Akhara boys compete with this kind of lude and alluring advertising? How could his iron barbells and wooden Mugurs (clubs) vie against the rubberised kettlebells and PVC dumbells? How could his open courtyard with an earthen ground match up to the Air-conditioned halls and padded floors of Karim Baksh’s futuristic gymnasium of fitness?
For a few years now the gym scene in the city was drastically changing. Globalisation and modernisation were gormandising many things of the past, branding them unfashionable and obsolete. Like the multiplexes replacing the old theatre and cinema halls, like the underground metro gaining grounds over the electric tramcars, like modern pubs and bistros killing the traditional cafes and cabins, Akharas were being taken over by multigyms.
Finishing his paper and paying Natu for the Chai and Biskoots, the old geezer thumped down the road. He walked up to the gate of Bold Bods and stopped, gaping at a hoarding featuring the same model, now exercising with kettlebells bent over in an exposed position, which disgusted him to the core.
A hep local youngster Abdul, in baggy pants and low-necked loose banyan, sipping energy drink from a plastic sipper, mocked the antediluvian (old man) as he passed by him going into the gym.
Over the years Ramkingkong had got used to flying remarks and naughty taunts from pranksters on the streets. After all, his enormity could not be overlooked by the mischievous who never missed an opportunity to get their share of fun at the expense of a giant walking up and down the streets in front of their homes.
As he stood there, looking at the hoarding, lost in a million thought, a gradual commotion started to brew. Within the next hour, like bubbles in a boiling kettle, a piece of devastating news spread in the locality through visuals from televisions and voices from the radio. The 16th-century Babri Mosque in the city of Ayodhya, in Uttar Pradesh, had just been demolished the day before.
Ramkingkong felt like someone had moved the grounds from under his giant feet. His head started swirling as scenes of violence from the riots of 1947 flashbacked in his mind. He instantly knew that this incident would spark communal violence in no time.
Till now, following the partition, while other Indian regions continued to experience periodic bouts of Hindu–Muslim violence, West Bengal remained relatively free of the communal virus. However, in the aftermath of the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992, the state failed to insulate itself from the communal hysteria that plagued the length and breadth of the country. The violence that followed, especially in Calcutta, came as a rude slap on the face of the city’s intelligentsia and general harmonious tolerance.
Within hours of absorbing the news, the whole harmonious fabric of the city changed. friends from the opposite faith started turning against each other. People ran and locked themselves in their homes. The streets were deserted at some places, while riddled with violence somewhere else.
Old Ramkingkong locked the gates of his Akhara and remained indoors to survive this passing storm of human violence. At around six in the evening, the giant heard soft knocks on one of his side doors. As he opened the door he saw young Abdul, one of Karim’s Muslim gym boys, the same kid who had mocked him in the morning, standing there along with his family, looking pale and scared, shocked with some terror unknown.
The boy mustered a bit of courage and spurted out “Dadu amader bachan, ajke rate ekhane thakte deen – grandpa save us, we beg you to let us spend the night here.” Moved by the boy’s plight the gentle giant took the Muslim family in. Abdul told him how waves of unknown miscreants were attacking Muslim homes. Many had died, many had fled and they somehow managed to escape.
Ramkingkong stood up and banged his feet on the floor. Enraged with this senseless violence he could not atone why Hindus and Muslims fought among themselves in this city of ultimate tolerance, where they loved and lived with each other for so many years. He thought this must be politically fuelled or fanned by people with vested interests, religion hardly mattered to whom. He had to do something, he could not sit idle locked away while innocent Calcuttans were being killed in front of his home.
Ramkingkong told Abdul and his family to stay hidden in the Akhara while he would go out to rescue as many people as possible. He whispered a password to Abdul, only on hearing which the young boy was supposed to open the door. With these instructions, the ancient Titan barged out into the burning streets, with his old and faithful wooden war mace Bhima in his hands, battle-ready as he was in the Jungles of Nagaland forty-eight years ago in the summer months of 1944.
As the night progressed one after the other there were several knocks on the Akhara door, which Abdul and his family only opened after hearing the correct password. By the break of dawn, a total of forty families had come to take refuge at Ramkingkong’s ancient Akhara – their fortress of hope. Some of them were personally brought there by the giant, while some came on their own after getting the password from some other rescued soul.
As the morning light broke and the violence seized Abdul and the forty families came out of the Akhara. In front of them lay the mutilated corpse of men women and even children. As they walked up the street soaking up the aftermath of the riot, they saw a scene, which brought tears in their eyes and many of them fell on their knees covering their sobs with the palm of their hands. Their worst fear of the night had come to be true.
At the gate of Bold Bods gym, stood fused the body of a giant along with five other human beings. It seemed like their bodies had mangled in a fire, which had now subsided but only after taking its toll. In front of them lay around fifty cadavers of men with swords and weapons either beside them or in their hands. Most of them had either their skulls or thorax crushed or knecks snapped. At one corner lay Ramkingkong’s trusted war mace Bhima, soaked in blood and battle-torn. From the terrace of the gym Karim Baksh, his wife and two daughters waved at the survivors signalling that they had been saved.
It looked like the miscreants were trying to force and enter Bold Bods gym to kill Karim Baksh and his family and Ramkingkong stopped them. He killed around fifty of them with his wooden mace and bare hands, while they stabbed him several times with knives and swords.
Finally, the Nephilim had blocked the gym gate with his gigantic body holding on to five of the rioting punks, who could not escape his killing chokehold, while a dying thug threw a Molotov cocktail alighting him and the five to their deaths. Even while burning alive the old giant did not let go of the thugs from his death-hold.
That night not a single miscreant could enter Karim Baksh’s gym. The giant had not only saved the forty families and Karim Baksh’s too but had become a legend of brotherly love among Hindus and Muslims in the cosmopolitan city of joy.
Twenty-eight years have passed since that dreadful night of pain, and today if you happen to visit the area around Haji Zakaria Lane and Raja Dinendra Street in north Kolkata, do ask around and many Hindus and Muslims alike will tell you about the legend of Ramkingkong – a giant of a God among men.
You might even catch the children playing a very unique game, where one would knock on a door, while another from inside would say “What’s the password” and the one from outside would answer “King Kong” and the gate would open.
Copyright © 2020 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
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