Saturday, August 13th, 2022 20:47:33

Milkha Singh : Colossus and Legend of Indian Sports passes away

By Sri Krishna
Updated: June 22, 2021 2:12 pm

From rags to not only riches but pinnacle of fame rose India’s first Super Star the “Flying Sikh” Milkha Singh who passed away at age 91. The legendary athlete who strode the Indian sports arena like a Colossus brought India’s first individual gold medal at the Commonwealth Games back in 1958 in Wales, a record that stayed with him for over five decades.

But, it was no easy road for this great athlete who had spent his early childhood in poverty living in a two-room house with one room reserved for the livestock.

Born in village Gobindpura in Muzaffargarh in undivided India, 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 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 Qila and at a resettlement colony in Shahdara,  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”.

Ironically it was Pakistan General late Ayub Khan who gave him the name “Flying Sikh” and which stuck to him and he became synonymous with it.

As Singh said on how he got the name Flying Sikh, ”Gen Ayub said to me, ‘Milkha, you came to Pakistan and did not run. You actually flew in Pakistan. Pakistan bestows upon you the title of the Flying Sikh.’

Singh had literally run for his life from Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947 losing both his parents at the hands of rioters.

Singh who joined the Army was promoted from the rank of sepoy to junior commissioned officer in recognition of his successes in the 1958 Asian Games. He subsequently became Director of Sports in Punjab Ministry of Education, a post he retired from in 1998.

Singh was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, following his success in 1958. In 2001, he turned down an offer of the Arjuna Award from the Indian government, arguing that it was intended to recognise young sports people and not those such as him. He also thought that the Award was being inappropriately given to people who had little notable involvement as active sports people at all. He said “I have been clubbed with sportspersons who are nowhere near the level that I had achieved” and that the award had become devalued. While sharing his wealth of experience in a college in Goa on 25 August 2014, he  said, “The awards nowadays are distributed like ‘prasad’ in a temple. Why should one be honoured when he or she has not achieved the benchmark for the award? I rejected the Arjuna I was offered after I received the Padma Shri. It was like being offered an SSC [secondary school] certificate after securing a Masters degree.”

Despite all difficulties, he ensured that he always kept himself fit and as he said while celebrating his 90th birthday in 2019  “I want people to be passionate about fitness. Whether it is working people or senior citizens, they need physical exercise daily.”

Coming from an athlete of his stature, this indeed is an important message to the nation.

Milkha Singh, who left this world due to “post Covid complications,” at 91 dominated the track and field for years and brought many laurels to the nation. He came within touching distance of  being just 0.01 second  away from the Bronze medallist  in the 400 M race at the Rome Olympics 1960.

Born on November 20, 1929, Milkha Singh developed a liking towards the track and field when he was serving in the Indian Army. He won India’s first individual gold medal at the Commonwealth Games back in 1958 in Wales, a record that stayed with him for over five decades.Flush Cache

Milkha Singh started his Olympic journey at the 1956 Olympics in Australia but it was his second appearance at the Games in Rome where the world took note of him and applauded the Indian sprinter.

In his third and final Olympic in Tokyo, Milkha Singh only participated in the 4x400m relay race in which he and his teammates were eliminated during the heat stages.

The sports fraternity took notice of Milkha Singh after the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo where he bagged two gold medals in 200m and 400m races.

In the very next Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962, Milkha Singh won the 400m race and also bagged gold medal in 4x400m relay race with Daljit Singh, Jagdish Singh and Makhan Singh.

Singh’s autobiography, The Race of My Life (cowritten with his daughter Sonia Sanwalka), was published in 2013 which inspired the biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a biographical film of Singh’s life. The film is directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, and stars Farhan Akhtar in the lead role, and Divya Dutta and Sonam Kapoor in pivotal roles. The film was widely acclaimed in India and won awards including ‘Most Popular Film’ at National Film Awards, and 5 awards at the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards in 2014. The film made over Rs 100 crores. Singh sold the movie rights for one rupee but inserted a clause stating that a share of the profits would be given to the Milkha Singh Charitable Trust. The Trust was founded in 2003 with the aim of assisting poor and needy sportspeople.

In September 2017, Singh’s wax statue – created by sculptors of Madame Tussauds in London – was unveiled at Chandigarh. It depicts Singh in running posture during his victorious run at the 1958 Commonwealth Games. The statue is placed at Madame Tussauds museum in New Delhi.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that in the passing away of Shri Milkha Singh Ji, we have lost a colossal sportsperson, who captured the nation’s imagination and had a special place in the hearts of countless Indians. His inspiring personality endeared himself to millions. Anguished by his passing away.


By Sri Krishna



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