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Monday, December 4, 2023

Journey of the ‘Flying Sikh’: From then to Eternity


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As the saying goes

“Life is but a stopping place,
A pause in what’s to be,
A resting place along the road,
To sweet eternity”

These lines fit to the present-day emotion of the world when it mourns the untimely demise of the “Flying Sikh” Honorary Captain Milkha Singh. Here’s how his life was wholly dedicated to the motherland.

 The blessed child took birth on November 20, 1929, in a Sikh Rajput family of Rathore clan in Govinpura village of Muzaffargarh city in Punjab province of undivided British India (present-day Muzaffargarh district, Pakistan). One of the 15 siblings, Milkha Singh traveled to India during the partition of India. During their travel to the motherland his parents, a brother, and two sisters were killed by the Muslim mobs in the violence. He witnessed this tragic scene.

 Punjab at that time witnessed massive killings of Hindus and Sikhs. Singh moved to Delhi in 1947 and lived with the family of his married sister. He was even imprisoned in Tihar Jail for a short period for traveling by train without a ticket. He was bailed by his sister after she sold her Jewelry for his release.

 After the incident, Milkha Singh took shelter at the refugee camp in Purana Qila and a resettlement colony in Shahdara, Delhi. Being depressed with life, Singh at a point felt like becoming a dacoit but was then persuaded by his brother Malkhan Singh to give a try to the unpredictable life and attempt recruitment to the Indian Army.

 In the fourth attempt, he successfully got recruited in the Indian Army in the year 1951. During his stationing at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre at Secunderabad, he got introduced to athletics. Around the age of 22, he got selected by the army for special training in athletics after he ran a distance of 10 km to and from the school. He cleared the run after finishing the sixth round in a compulsory cross-country run for the recruits. He acknowledged the incident by saying “I came from a remote village, I didn’t know what running was, or the Olympics.”

Singh’s life took an unusual turn after his introduction to sports. He was awarded India’s fourth-highest civilian award- Padma Shri in 1958 following his success in Asian Games. He was even promoted from sepoy to the rank of junior commissioned officer in recognition of his success. He subsequently held the position of Director of Sports in the Punjab Ministry of Education and retired from the post in 1998.

 When Milkha Singh was offered his nomination for the Arjuna awards from the Indian government in 2001, he rejected the offer saying the award was intended to recognize the young talent in sports and those such as him. Once sharing an experience in Goa College in 2014 he asserted, “The awards nowadays are distributed like ‘prasad’ in a temple. Why should one be honored 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 certificate after securing a Master’s degree.”

Flying Sikh’s Track Record 

While serving in the Indian army he got introduced to athletic sport. He was an Indian track and field sprinter then.

 His greatest achievements on the national and international plinth were indelible and unmatchable. He was the very first Indian to win gold at the 400 m race at Asian Games as well as Commonwealth Games. Since then, his journey of fetching gold in Asia and the Commonwealth started. He then won it in the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games. He even represented the tricolor in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, and the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Due to his greatest achievements for the motherland and his track speed, of course, the world knew him by the name “Flying Sikh”.

Mr. Singh’s achievements stun the world.

  1.     In 1958 in Cardiff British Empire and Commonwealth Games for 440 yards, he secured Gold for India.
  2.   In the 1958 Tokyo Summer Olympics for 200 m, he fetched Gold for the tricolor.
  3.   In the 1958 Tokyo Summer Olympics for 400m he once again secured Gold for the nation.
  4.   In 1962 in Jakarta Olympics for 400m, gold was welcomed to India.
  5.   Moreover, the same year in Jakarta Olympics in the 4 × 400m relay, gold was welcomed to India because of the unmatchable Singh.

For the national games of India, his record was splendid as ever.

  1. In 1958 in Cuttack for 200 m, he secured gold.
  2.   The same year for 400 m he secured Gold with a time of 46.6 seconds.
  3.   In the 1960 Olympics 400m final, he set a world record by running over a cinder track. The record was held until 1998 when Paramjit Singh exceeded it on a synthetic track.
  4. In 1964 in Calcutta for 400 m, he secured silver.

 The best match of his career was almost each but the one he is remembered most for is his final match at the 1960 Olympic Games where he secured the fourth position. The match was even referred to by him as one of the favorites as he led the race till the 200m marks before easing off, allowing others to pass him. Various records were broken in the race, which required a photo-finish and saw American Otis Davis being declared the winner by one-hundredth of a second over German Carl Kaufmann. Singh’s fourth-place time of 45.73 seconds was the Indian national record for almost 40 years.

For his indelible records in 2008, a journalist named Rohit Brijnath described him as “the finest athlete India has ever produced”.

 His finest record on track fetched him great achievements and fame and memorable moments.

There are numerous records filed on his birthday itself.

  1.   On 20 November 1929, a record in Pakistan was noted.
  2. On 20 November 1932, another record was noted.
  3.     On 17 October 1935, yet another record was noted.

 When Milkha Singh won over Abdul Khaliq in Pakistan in 1960, the then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan praised him saying “You didn’t run today, you flew”.

 According to some sources, it is even believed that he also set a world record of 45.8 seconds in France soon before the Rome Olympics happened, but the official report of Games had the record in the name of Lou Jones who ran 45.2 at Los Angeles in the year 1956.

 Looking into the past Singh even recalled a few moments as the “worst memories” as once he made an error at a 250 m race by slowing down in the belief that the pace could not be sustained and looking around at his fellow competitors and the probable reason for his loss at that time.

 Even the Flying Sikh in his times faced failures that treated him much stronger to work harder and gain more. In the 1964 national games at Calcutta, he lost a 400m race to Makhan Singh. In the 1960 Olympic Games he did not finish first in any of his four races.

 A glance at his personal life

Singh, being toughly dedicated to his athletic career and nation, focused on his personal life when he met Nirmal Saini, a former captain of the Indian women’s volleyball team in Ceylon in 1955.

After staying in connect for a gap of 7 years they got married in 1962 and were blessed with three daughters and a son. Their son Jeev Milkha Singh is a popular golfer.

 In 1999 they adopted a seven-year-old child of an army man named Havildar Bikram Singh who laid down his life on the battlefield during the Battle of Tiger Hill.

 In the year 2013, an autobiography of Milkha Singh was published titled “The Race of my Life” published by Rupa Books publication.

The same year a movie on his life journey was made namely “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” portraying his life’s story.

 The saddening news came on June 18, 2021, about his untimely demise, the reason being post-COVID-19 implications at the age of 91. The news was heard just after five days of his wife’s Nirmal Soni’s demise on June 13 due to COVID-19.

Journey of the ‘Flying Sikh’: From then to Eternity -
Milkha Singh with wife Nirmal Saini

The “Flying Sikh” of India left this space to travel across the Universe with his beloved partner and left the nation rather the world in the shockwaves of the news and greatly wide ocean of memories.

[author title=”Shreya Gohel” image=”http://localhost/gc2/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/20210127_014031.jpg”]Journalist, Goa Chronicle

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