New Delhi: the path was for him like an open book in which Milkha Singh found the “meaning and purpose of life”. And what a life he made for himself. Before his 91-year-old body lost to COVID-19 on Friday after battling it for a month, Milkha won the kind of battles that would not have survived much. Forget about living long enough to tell the world about it. “Do not worry, I’m in a good mood. I’m surprised, how can I get this infection? I hope to overcome it soon,” Milkha said in his last interaction with PTI before being hospitalized recorded and sounded his usual jovial sound. himself, extremely confident in his legendary fitness. One of the greatest independent Indian sports icons was a tormented man, but refused to let it get in the way of achievements that were unheard of in his era. He saw his parents being slaughtered during the suspension, indulging in petty crimes to survive in refugee camps in Delhi. Who would have thought that such a man would get the sobriquet of ‘The Flying Sikh’? But Milkha deserved it and deserves it with a masterclass on how to be bigger and better than one’s circumstances. He ‘revered’ the path as ‘the sanctum sanctorum in a temple where the god lives.’ For him, running was his God and beloved, while he created his own little fairy tale from what could easily have been a tale of horror. Speaking of medals, the legendary athlete was a gold medalist of the Asian Games and the 1958 Commonwealth Games Championship, but his greatest achievement was an almost miss, finishing fourth in the 400m final of the 1960 Olympic Games. Games in Rome. His timing at the Italian capital remained the national record for 38 years and he was awarded the Padma Shri in 1959. But more than anything else, Milkha was the one who put Indian athletics on the world map by winning the gold in the then 440-meter race of the 1958 British and Commonwealth Games. He became the first Indian athlete to win an individual gold in a Commonwealth Games, which led to then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declaring a national holiday at his request. Milkha set his career record on 77 wins from 80 races. He also claims that he improved the ‘Olympic Games record’ of that time in a race in France, but with sketchy records available, it is difficult to confirm just like his actual date of birth which is officially November 20, 1929. He lost the race of his life at the Olympic Games in Rome and completed the 400m final in 45.6 seconds, 0.1 seconds less than the bronze medal. Hard to believe, but he slowed down in a colossal error of judgment because he wanted to save himself for the last 150m. He remains tormented by the mist, one of the only two incidents in his life that he described as memorable – the other being the murder of his parents in Pakistan. “The one medal I longed for during my career has just slipped through my fingers due to one small error of judgment,” Milkha wrote in his 160-page autobiography that coincided with the launch of a film about his life, ” Bhaag Milkha Bhaag ‘. ‘. However, his timing at the Italian capital remained a national record for 38 years until Paramjeet Singh broke it at a 1998 national rally in Kolkata. Milkha promised to give a cash prize of Rs 2 lakh to the one who breaks his record, but he ultimately did not do so because the flamboyant star believed that Paramjeet’s achievement would only count for something if he counted it in ‘ would achieve a foreign competition. “Mera record todne wala india mein paida nahi hua (the one who can break my record has not been born in india yet),” he famously said in 1991, holding on to the conviction even when the record was shattered. Another of his unfulfilled dreams was to see another Indian do what he could not, bring home an Olympic Games medal. A self-proclaimed village ‘bumpkin’ from the undivided Punjab’s Govindpura, Milkha’s pursuit of a better life began as a 15-year-old when he escaped from Pakistan to Delhi after witnessing a massacre of his parents during claimed the partition. His approach to life in the refugee camp was disrespectful. He worked as a boat cleaner, a shop cleaner near the old train station in Delhi, and in between stole goods from trains to make ends meet.
The petty crimes landed Milkha in jail and he was rescued by Sister Ishvar, who sold her jewels to release him. Milkha tried to increase in life by making repeated attempts to join the army. He made it through with his fourth attempt in 1952 and it was the turning point he so desperately wanted and needed. He was posted to Secunderabad and ran his first race – a five-mile cross-country race – when army coach Gurdev Singh promised an extra glass of milk to those who finished in the top-10. He finished sixth and was later selected for special training in 400 m. The rest is, as they say, a well-documented history. He won the selection test during the 1956 Olympics, despite being brutally assaulted by his competitors the day before the race. Milkha was disappointed during the Games because he could not reach the preliminary heat, but took advantage of the experience and managed to share the gold medalist of the 400 m, Charles Jenkins, to share his training methods. In his autobiography, he claimed that after that disappointment he practiced so intensely that he would vomit blood and on many occasions become unconscious. His life and career story is incomplete without the Indo-Pak event in 1960 where he surpassed Pakistani Abdul Khaliq before the Olympic Games in Rome. Khaliq was considered the fastest man in Asia at the time, and in 1958 won the Asian Games in the 100 meters gold. After Milkha won 400m gold in the same Games, he also beat Khaliq in the 200m final. Initially, Milkha refused to go to Pakistan as he did not want to return to a country where his parents were slaughtered but was persuaded by Prime Minister Nehru to face his demons. He beat Khaliq in the 200m race in Lahore and was christened ‘The Flying Sikh’ by then-Pakistani President Ayub Khan, who congratulated him during the awards ceremony. Milkha retired from athletics after the 1964 Olympics, two years after winning the gold in the 400m and 4x400m relay events at the Asian Games held in Jakarta. Prior to that, he had already taken up the post of Deputy Director of Sport in the Punjab government in 1961 at the urging of the then Prime Minister Pratap Singh Kairon. He left the Indian army and also moved from Delhi to Chandigarh. In 1991, he introduced a compulsory game period in schools and also set up sports wings in schools in the districts to utilize talent at the grassroots level. He married Nirmal Kaur, captain of the Indian volleyball team, in 1963. They first met in Sri Lanka in 1956 when they were there for their respective national duties. The couple is blessed with three daughters and a son, golfer Jeev Milkha Singh, and what a great successor to his legacy he was at the height of his prowess. It was quite astonishing that an athlete of Milkha’s format was only offered the Arjuna Award, which was instituted in 1961, in 2001. He famously rejected it, saying that the honor did not have the “stature of the services he rendered to the nation”. In fact, Milkha was a total of more than his various races and medals. He was also much more than the almost missed in Rome. He was independent India’s first love affair with the cut, the one this country can never overcome.