Says Milkha Singh about the biopic. The flying Sikh tells NIKHIL VARMA he dreams of seeing an Indian get a gold medal at the Olympics
Milkha Singh’s life story is one that gives hope to underdogs everywhere. It is the story of a young malnourished boy, who faced the terrible riots in partition, saw his family murdered, lived a life of relative penury till his ability to run fast was discovered in the course of a race in an Army battalion in the 1950’s. Milkha Singh went on to run nearly 80 international races, winning a clutch of medals for the country. He won fame and earned the moniker of the Flying Sikh. In the city for a charity event conducted by the Concern India Foundation, he spoke about his experiences and the state of athletics in India.
“I was a jawan in the Indian Army when I discovered that I could run really fast. I wanted to make my country proud. It was the late 50’s and the spirit of Independence was still in the air. The happiest moment in my career was when the national anthem played after I bagged the gold medal at the 1958 Cardiff commonwealth games. I wept as the gold medal was placed on my neck.”
He adds, “In the 1962 Olympics at Rome, I was very upset at missing out a medal. I was the world record holder and was given a good chance to bag the gold. However, I missed the bronze medal. That loss hurt me.”
Milkha contends that the recent biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was inspired mostly by his life and experiences. “I liked the movie. I have been getting many mails and letters ever since the movie was released.”
Milkha says that hard work, discipline and will power played a very important role in his career. “After a lacklustre performance in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, I went to meet the world record holder. I took notes about his schedule, exercise routine and his food habits. I returned to India and followed it to the tee. It was very tough. I vomited blood, but kept on practicing and never gave up hope. I was thrilled when I managed to break the world record in the 400 metres.”
“In sports, hard work is very important to break records and challenge the best in the world. If you have a 60-second lag in the world championships, that difference is too large to bridge. I feel that the sportspersons should take pride in playing for the country. Kids now spend more time watching sports on television than playing it.”
Why has India not been able to produce another Milkha Singh? This is a question that rankles in him as well. “Since Independence, We have only managed to produce a handful of athletes who have done well at the international level. It is important that the Indian athletic association take note of this situation. We need better coaches, hired on contracts with a clear mandate to deliver results. There is no coach or trainer who can claim that he/she discovered or nurtured a new face/ talent. As the situation stands, we do not have any medal prospects in the near future in athletics.
Most of the youngsters want quick fame and are wary of the hard work and toil that comes alongside being a top level athlete. The lack of good training facilities and the corruption in the sports associations is also responsible for this situation. It was very shameful that because of infighting in the Olympic committee, Indian athletes at Sochi games were forced to march under the Olympic flag. ”
He adds, “The lure of quick money and fame in cricket also ensures that the best athletes do not want to participate in other sports. The media is also responsible. Cricket is covered round the clock, with other sports given limited slots.”
Milkha also dwelt on his rejection of the Arjuna award in 2001. “I rejected the award because I felt that many people who do not deserve it were on the list. It is not fair to athletes who have spent their lives playing for the country.”
Milkha still dreams of seeing an Indian bag the gold medal at the Olympics in the near future. “I want to see an Indian achieve what I could not in 62’. It will make me very proud.”