“Life’s game was neither started by me, nor it will end with me. I have only spent a small part of a century with my fluttering body, and one day, I will leave this stadium, leaving other players between their activities.”
– Milkha Singh
He was born from the ashes of a nation burned down into two territories divided by a border. From a man who committed petty crimes to survive the refugee camps developed after the partition to a legendary track and field sprinter who was awarded the Padma Shri in recognition of his achievements in sports, Milkha Singh rose to become a legend and got known as ‘The Flying Sikh.’
Milkha Singh took his last breath on June 18, 2021, succumbing to complications developed due to COVID-19. He was 91-years old when he closed his eyes forever. His wife, Nirmal Saini, a renowned volleyball player and the captain of the women’s national volleyball team passed away a week ago. Milkha Singh and her wife Nirmal Saini are survived by their son, 14-time international winner, golfer Jeev Milkha Singh, Mona Singh, Sonia Singh, and Aleeza Gover. With his children, Milkha Singh is also survived by the legacy upon which the Indian athletic lore is based.
Milkha Singh was tested positive on May 20 and was admitted to a hospital in Mohali on May 24. He was discharged but was admitted again on June 3. “Don’t worry. I am in good spirits. I am surprised how did I get this disease? I hope to get over it soon,” said Milkha in his last interaction with the media.
Milkha Singh was born on November 20, 1929, in Govindpura Village, Muzaffargarh district, Pakistan. During the partition, he saw his parents and seven siblings get murdered in the 1947 turmoil. As his father’s body fell on the ground with life leaving him by the second, with all the energy left, he said, “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.” That marked the day when he ran for his life and never stopped since. Later, he went on to win medals and accolades and make the nation proud.
Milkha Singh is the only athlete to win gold in the 400m race in the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. He also won gold medals in the 1958 and the 1962 Asian Games. He represented the country in the 1956 Summer Olympics, 1960 Summer Olympics, and 1964 Olympics in Melbourne, Rome, and Tokyo.
In an interview, he once said, “I was moved to tears by the thought that from being nobody the night before, I had become somebody.” He became more than somebody. Milkha Singh was an inspiration to so many young people who lack resources and self-worth and want to make it big in the sports world.
Everybody knew that Milkha was meant to achieve great things when in the 1960 Indo-Pak sports meet, he defeated Abdul Khaliq, who was considered the fastest man in Asia at that time. He beat Khaliq in the 200m race in Lahore. A race for which Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, persuaded Milkha Singh since he was adamant to not step in Pakistan again after the bloodbath he witnessed during the partition.
It was this race, after which the then Pakistan President General Ayub Khan gave him the title ‘Flying Sikh’ saying, “Milkha Ji, you didn’t run in Pakistan, you flew.” India, today, remembers him on his death. His zeal and undying spirit will forever continue to inspire generations.