NEW DELHI: Flying Sikh Milkha Singh has shed tears on five occasions in his
eventful life -- and the most heart-wrenching was when he saw his family
being killed during the 1947 Partition.
moment which brought tears to his eyes was when he missed an Olympic
medal by a whisker at the 1960 Rome Games.
bitter-sweet tearful moments at an event here last week, the sprightly
octogenarian told an enraptured audience: "Milkha Singh has cried only
five times in his life... Thrice these were extremely sad moments while
on two occasions, they were tears of joy...."
Taking a stroll
down memory lane, the ramrod-straight lanky former middle-distance
runner said he still rues having missed an Olympic medal in the 400
metres race at the 1960 Rome Games.
"When I lost the medal in the
1960 Rome Olympics by one-hundredth of a second because of a blunder,
it brought tears to my eyes," said an emotional Milkha Singh, who had
led the 400 metres race till the 200-metre-mark, before he lost steam
short of the tape to finish fourth -- pipped to the bronze by one
hundredth of a second.
Earlier, Milkha Singh became the first
Indian athlete to win an individual athletics gold medal at the 1958
Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales.
But the bitter memories
that still haunt him are those of the Partition when he lost his
parents, brother and two sisters in the communal violence that rocked
"During the 1947 Partition, my family was
killed before my eyes. I was witness to all the brutal killings that
took place. I was around 16 years old then. We didn't want to leave our
village (Govindpura, which is a few kilometres from Muzaffargarh city in
Punjab province of present day Pakistan). But when we resisted, my
family had to face the ugly side of Partition. There was bloodshed all
around and I was in tears," Milkha Singh recounted to an audience that
listened to him with rapt attention.
He further added: "When we
reached Delhi, I saw bodies everywhere at the Old Delhi Railway station.
There was neither food to eat, nor house to stay. Many deaths took
place due to civil disorder. Just because of the fight between two
people (Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah) for the post of the
Prime Minister, the partition took place...."
Milkha Singh also
recalled how reluctant he was to go to Pakistan in 1960 to participate
in a friendly race against Abdul Khaliq, who was also known as the
fastest man in Asia, but later agreed on being persuaded by then Prime
Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
"Another moment which brought tears to
my eyes -- though of happiness -- was when I won the race in Pakistan
in 1960 against Abdul Khaliq. There is an interesting story behind the
race. When the invitation came from Pakistan, I initially refused to go.
But later I was persuaded by Jawaharlal Nehru who told me to keep aside
the memories of the Partition," said Milkha Singh, who was awarded the
coveted Padma Shri for his success in the 1958 Commonwealth Games.
said the title Flying Sikh was given to him by then Pakistan President
Field Marshal Ayub Khan who was impressed by his feat after defeating
Milkha Singh credited the Indian army for his success on
the cinder track. "I was rejected at the recruitment stage thrice before
I finally succeeded in qualifying for entry... and then I was able to
get training facilities there which helped me tremendously improve my
In 2013, a film directed by Rakeysh
Omprakash Mehra 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag', starring Farhan Akhtar as Milkha
Singh, was made on his life. The Flying Sikh admits he became very
emotional while watching the movie.
"Tears rolled down my eyes.
Farhan Akhtar asked me, 'Why are you crying Sir?'. To which I replied:
'I saw my whole life in the movie. Every moment reflects reminiscences
of my life. It made me very emotional," said Milkha Singh.
his Commonwealth Games triumph, he said: "When I won the gold medal in
the 1958 Commonwealth Games and received the medal from the Queen, tears
of joy rolled down my cheeks."
"Suddenly, a lady sitting next to
the Queen came up and said 'Milkha Singh, you made India proud and
Panditji (Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru) wants to know, what do you
want'. The lady introduced herself as Panditji's sister Vijaylaxmi
Pandit (who was then the Indian High Commissioner to the United
Kingdom)," he added.
"I replied to her saying if Panditji wants
to give me something, then he should announce one-day government holiday
in India," a visibly emotional Milkha Singh said.
A day's holiday was declared countrywide to celebrate Milkha Singh's feat.
(Vidhi Dhankar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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