Many sports stars has done a lot for our country, India. But only few stars got recognised by our Government. The worst thing is our Government has failed drastically in honouring many gems of our country. One such great personality is “Milkha Singh” better known as “The Flying Sikh“. Sometimes I feel our film industry better know how to honour a person who has made our country proud at international level by making films based on autobiographies. I salute our Indian Film industry for this. For the man who had won 77 of the 80 races he ran, Milkha Singh has no medals. It has been some years that ‘The Flying Sikh’ has donated his sporting treasures to the nation. No personal souvenirs line his living room walls, no trophies sit on the mantle. Instead, the walls make do with pictures of the surgeon in America who saved his wife’s life and Havildar Bikram Singh, a Kargil martyr. “I have given permission that my medals be transferred from the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi to the sports museum in Patiala,” says the 72-year-old Singh. Strangely, the stadium gallery lined with many of India’s sporting talent does not have a single picture of Milkha Singh. In a country where great sportspersons are few and far between, as I had said earlier India has a strange way of honouring its stars. Anyways it’s of no use cursing our Indian government as nothing gonna change. But I would like to write something a bit about this gem of our country.
The partition of India happened when he was still a teenager. In the violence that ensued, he witnessed the killings of his parents and several siblings before his very eyes. His father, as he lay dying told Milkha to run for his life.
Born on 20th November, 1929 in Govindpura a village 10 kilometres from Muzaffargarh city in Punjab Province, British India (now Muzaffargarh District, Pakistan) in a sikh Rathore Rajput family. He was one of 15 siblings, eight of whom died before the Partition of India. He was orphaned during the Partition, when his parents, a brother and two sisters were killed in the violence that ensued. He witnessed these killings. Escaping the troubles in Punjab, where killings of Hindus and Sikhs were continuing by moving to Delhi, India, in 1947, Singh lived for a short time with the family of his married sister and was briefly imprisoned at Tihar jail for travelling on a train without a ticket. His sister, Ishvar, sold some jewellery to obtain his release. He spent some time at a refugee camp in Purana Quila and at a resettlement colony in Shahdara, both in Delhi.
Singh became disenchanted with his life and considered becoming a dacoit but was instead persuaded by a brother, Malkhan, to attempt recruitment to the Indian Army. He successfully gained entrance on his fourth attempt, in 1951, and while stationed at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre in Secunderabad he was introduced to athletics. He had run the 10 km distance to and from school as a child and was selected by the army for special training in athletics after finishing sixth in a compulsory cross-country run for new recruits. Singh has acknowledged how the army introduced him to sport, saying that “I came from a remote village, I didn’t know what running was, or the Olympics”.
He started training five hours daily, often running in difficult terrains like the hills, the sands on the bank of rivers, and against a meter gauge train. His training was sometimes so intense that he would be sick with fatigue.
Getting Polished to Become a Champion:
He was chosen to represent India in the 200m and 400m races in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Milkha began training hard and harder at the Army to become an accomplished Athlete. He showed his prowess for the first time at the Services Athletic Meet 1955, wherein he finished 2nd in the 200m and 400m race events. After delivering a much better performance and winning both the events at the National Games 1956 held at Patiala, Milkha went on to break the 200m and 400m records in the National Games 1958, held at Cuttack. He clocked 46.1m in 400m at National Games 1960 that was considered to be a World class performance of that time. But, his best had still to arrive.
The Flying Sikh:
Milkha Singh defeated the Fastest Pakistani runner Abdul Khaliq who had won a 100m Gold Medal at Tokyo Asian Games 1958 in the year 1962. Impressed by the Indian athlete’s performance, the then President of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan, who had also witnessed the historic race complimented him by saying that he did not run, but flew. Thus Milkha gained the famous title -The Flying Sikh, a name that has become immortal forever in the history of Indian Athletics.
“Winning doesn’t come cheaply. You have to pay a big price”– Milkha
Milkha Singh loses the qualifying race in Melbourne Olympics.
In the first heat in the Rome Olympics in 1960, Milkha Singh clocked 47.6 seconds to finish second. In the second round, he finished second to Karl Kaufman of Germany with a timing of 46.5 seconds. In the semis, he came second but he further reduced a few more seconds from his early timing (45.9).
In the final, Milkha Singh went off the blocks and took an early lead. He slowed a bit midway into the race and the others overtook him there. He increased his pace and gave his best on the last lap. However, the race was such a close and fierce one that he had to settle for fourth by just 0.1 seconds. However, his effort is hailed as he clocked 47.6, 46.5, 45.9 and 45.6 seconds in his four runs clocking a better timing in every outing.
Dejected by his defeat, he made up his mind to give up the sport but his passion and determination made the legend to join the athletics again. He won Gold medals in 400m and 4x400m relay in 1962 Asian Games.
In recognition of Singh’s successes in the 1958 Asian Games, he was promoted from the rank of sepoy to junior commissioned officer.
He was given the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, in 1959 for his glorious achievements in the field of sports.
He eventually became the Director of Sports in the Punjab Ministry of Education.
A True Inspiration:
He is a true inspiration because he belonged to a time when there was no coach for him, no reward for his effort and no job security to keep training, all he had was a will to win and that made him greater. We can’t choose where we Originate from but we can choose where we want to head to.
Milkha Singh’s story from the modest origins in a tiny village, Gobindpura is a proof that with hope, confidence, and effort, we can go a long way, stay ahead, attain international fame and live life fully!
If we learn from his experience and adopt hard work, willpower, and dedication, we can make our lives a success. Hats off to you Milkha Singh!
“I would not stop till I had filled up a bucket with my sweat. I would push myself so much that in the end I would collapse and I would have to be admitted to the hospital, I would pray to god to save me, promise that I would be more careful in future. And then I would do it all over again” – Milkha Singh