Written by DivijaVaish, a grade 12 student
Milkha Singh was born on 20 November 1929 in Govindpura, Pakistan. He was orphaned during the 1947 Partition, during which he moved from Pakistan to India, vowing never to return to that country after the horrors he had seen there, including the death of his own parents and three of his siblings.
After earning meagre amounts from working at a roadside restaurant, Milkha joined the army. He considered becoming a dacoit but his brother, Malkhan, persuaded him to join the army. After three failed attempts, he was finally able to join as an electrical mechanical engineer, where his talent as a sprinter was discovered after he finished sixth out of 400-odd army men running in a cross-country race.
Under his coach, Havildar Gurdev Singh, he was able to get national recognition following the 1956 National Games at Patiala. Merely two years later, he went on to break the national records for the 200m and 400m events during the National Games in Cuttack.
He represented India at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics. The highlight of Milkha’s career, what he is most prominently known for, is his fourth-place finish at the 1960 Rome Olympics, where his time of 45.73 seconds was the Indian national record for almost four decades. He went on to represent the country at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Milkha Singh is the only Indian athlete to have won gold at 400 metres at the Asian Games as well as the Commonwealth Games.
It was the then-Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who persuaded Milkha to put aside his memories of Pakistan and go back to the country to compete in 1969, the race which earned him the title of the “Flying Sikh”. After the race, during the felicitation ceremony, the Pakistani President, General Ayub Khan, told him, “Milkha, you came to Pakistan and did not run. You actually flew in Pakistan. Pakistan bestows upon you the title of the ‘Flying Sikh’”.
In 1959, Milkha Singh was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, after his success in the 1958 Asian Games. Later on, in 2001, Singh was to be awarded the Arjuna Award for his excellence in athletics, but he refused to accept it and turned down the award saying that “I have been clubbed with people who are nowhere near the level I have achieved.” In Goa, 2014, he stated that, “The awards are nowadays distributed like ‘prasad’ at 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 certificate after securing a Master’s degree.”
In 1955, Milkha met Nirmal Saini, the former captain of the national women’s volleyball team, in Sri Lanka. Seven years later, in 1962, they got married and had four children- three girls and one son, the pro-golfer JeevMilkha Singh.
In 1999, the couple adopted Havildar Bikram Singh’s seven-year-old child after he died in the Battle of Tiger Hill. On 13th June 2021, Nirmal passed away due to Covid-19. On Saturday, 18 June, the Flying Sikh, too, passed away following post-Covid complications.
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