Hailing from the remote village of Sekta in Imphal East district of Manipur, Dingko Singh never thought he would make it so big in the boxing world.
"I just can't believe it. It all seems unreal," he had told this reporter reluctantly while discussing his cult status in Imphal a few years after making history at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok.
A road had been named after him by the Manipur government and it was said that, to judge Dingko's popularity in the state capital, you really had to travel to the region and experience it yourself.
This was a time when Manipur had already become a hotbed of sporting talent.
There was Kunjarani Devi, the pint-sized weightlifting dynamo from Imphal. There was Brojeshori Devi, the lone Indian woman judoka at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. There were also the 2002 Commonwealth Games' champion hockey players Tingonleima Chanu and former skipper Suraj Lata Devi - who inspired the making of 'Chak De India'.
And, there was Dingko - the king of the ring - who became a role model for those like MC Mary Kom who arrived on the scene after him.
Daughter of a farmer from the land of Dingko, Mary Kom had once told this reporter how she was taken to boxing after watching the Asian Games champion script history in Bangkok.
"He is just like a brother. After getting inspired by his massive achievement, I went to see an exhibition boxing match between women during the Manipur National Games in 1999 and that is how I became hooked on to the sport," said Mary Kom.
Kunjarani, Brojeshori, Tingonleima, Suraj Lata, Mary Kom, and many more all around the country, are today recalling every memory they have of Ngangom Dingko Singh.
After knocking out champion boxers, 42-year-old Padma Shri awardee lost his fight to liver cancer, which he had been battling since 2017.
Remembered fondly for his historic feat of ending India's 16-year wait for an Asian Games gold when he stood on top of the podium at the 1998 Games in Bangkok, Dingko made his international debut in 1997 and caught everyone's attention with his stellar show in the 1997 Kings Cup in Bangkok.
He later went on to inspire several generations of Indian boxers with his notable performances, including the gold at the 1998 Asian Games.
After initially not being selected in India's Asian Games squad, Dingko outperformed some of the top boxers including the then world number three, Thailand’s Wong Sontaya, in the semifinal followed by Timur Tulyakov in the final enroute to the gold medal.
Dingko was honoured with the prestigious Arjuna Award in 1998 and had also represented the country at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Having taken to coaching and going through a number of ups and downs in personal and professional life, the boxer was awarded the country's fourth-highest civilian award Padma Shri in 2013.
Last year, during the nationwide lockdown, Dingko was airlifted from Imphal to Delhi by an air ambulance, felicitated by the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) for his cancer treatment. Later, he had also tested positive for Covid-19 and failed to recover fully, eventually.
Shri Dingko Singh was a sporting superstar, an outstanding boxer who earned several laurels and also contributed to furthering the popularity of boxing. Saddened by his passing away. Condolences to his family and admirers. Om Shanti.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 10, 2021
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his condolence message, said today that Dingko was a "sporting superstar".
“Shri Dingko Singh was a sporting superstar, an outstanding boxer who earned several laurels and also contributed to furthering the popularity of boxing. Saddened by his passing away. Condolences to his family and admirers. Om Shanti,” tweeted the PM.
Mary Kom said that Dingko was "a true hero of our nation"... "You leave but your legacy will live among us. RIP #DingkoSingh," she tweeted.
Vijender Singh, the first Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal, once again recalled the times when he saw Dingko in the ring during the 1998 Asian Games, raising high the Indian flag - an event which made the Haryana boxer take up the sport.
"My sincerest condolences on this loss May his life's journey & struggle forever remain a source of inspiration for the upcoming generations. I pray that the bereaved family finds the strength to overcome this period of grief & mourning," Vijender said.
Lamenting the huge loss to the boxing fraternity, BFI said that Dingko was an inspiration to many Indian boxers.
“Dingko Singh passing away is an irreplaceable loss for Indian Boxing. He was an inspiration to a generation of boxers and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations. In this hour of grief and loss, the boxing family stands in solidarity with his wife and family and pray for the departed soul,” said BFI President Ajay Singh.
Clearly, Dingko might be gone but his legacy will live on. Forever.