No one should suffer what I suffered. I still dread those scenes when man killed man. I lost my parents, most of my family, by running away.
His handshake is firm, gait precise, memory sharp as ever. Milkha Singh’s life flashes past him as he packs his bag to take the flight to London. To relive his career that comes alive in Bhag Milkha Bhag, a bio-pic on one of India’s finest athletes, which is to premiere this week.
His eyes sparkle as he takes a journey back into time, a period that evokes some fond and some melancholic phases of his eventful life.
Escaping the harsh happenings in a village near Lahore as Partition enflamed India and Pakistan in 1947, boarding a train by hiding in a women’s compartment, conquering hunger and poverty to emerge as an athletic icon, Milkha has seen it all.
“No one should suffer what I suffered. I still dread those scenes when man killed man. I lost my parents, most of my family, by running away,” reflected Milkha.
Running became a habit, only this time it took him to some of the most celebrated athletic arenas in the world.
Milkha can’t forget the time he spent in Tihar Jail. “I was caught travelling without ticket. I had no money.” His sister, Ishar, pawned her jewellery to organise his bail.
When Milkha grew into a respected athlete, he took Ishar to watch a race at the National Stadium. The starter’s gun evoked a sharp cry from his sister. “They have shot my brother,” she screamed. Milkha, as was his habit, hit the grass when he breasted the tape and recovered to rush to his sister, now in tears. “I can’t forget the relief when she saw me alive,” Milkha laughs aloud.
Rome still rankles
“Rome rankles. It will always. I missed a certain medal,” his sad tenor confirming his dejection of that day in 1960 when he let go an Olympic medal.
“It was mine. But sadly, an Olympic medal (in athletics) has remained a dream for India,” laments Milkha, remembering every little detail of the race where he finished fourth even as the world expected him to adorn the podium.
The movie has rekindled memories of the days when he was a darling of the nation.
He could call on Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru without an appointment; he could recommend fellow athletes for commendations; he was the most sought after sportsman, a shining athlete who earned laurels the world over.
Wishing the best
He wishes Indian athletes the “best” at the Asian Meet in Pune. “They owe it to the nation. Bring glory and smile to our old faces,” the 80-plus stalwart prays.
Bhag Milkha Bhag is set to bring the young Milkha to today’s young generation.