Popularly known as ‘The Flying Sikh’, Milkha Singh is one of India’s greatest track and field sprinters who has made his nation proud on numerous occasions. A true inspiration to all and an epitome of grit, determination and a personification of passion. From his sporting achievements to national awards, Milkha’sjourney to success is a heroic tale. Born in 1929, Milkha was raised with 14 siblings and unfortunately, was orphaned during the partition. Eight of his siblings passed away before the partition. Tragically, Milkha witnessed his parents, two sisters and a brother killed during the partition.
Milkha’s childhood was extremely harsh on him. From being locked up in jail for travelling in a train without a ticket to spending time in a refugee camp in Purana Qila. In order to make ends meet, Milkha wanted to become a dacoit, but with the help of his brother’s persuasion, Milkha joined the Indian army, and that’s where his life changed.
As witnessed in the movie ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, Milkha had to run to and back from school, a distance of 10 KM, which helped in taking up a sport – running. The army helped him train and well, his speed and commitment spoke for itself. From there on, there was no looking back for Milkha.
1958 Asian Games – After gaining experience in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Milkha represented India in the Tokyo Asian Games in 1985. Milkha participated in the 200 meters and 400 meters track race in which Milkha secured gold in the events and set new records as well.
1958 Commonwealth Games – After his success in Tokyo, Milkha participated in the 400 meters and completed the race in 46.6 seconds, setting a new record and securing gold. His achievement made Milkha the first sportsperson to win a gold medal from India.
The term ‘The Flying Sikh’ – At the time in 1960, Milkha was persuaded by then India Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to compete in a race against Pakistan’s Abdul Khaliq. Milkha eventually won the race and was given the name ‘The Flying Sikh’ by then General Ayub Khan as the speedster completed the race in an astonishing 45.8 seconds.
1962 Asian Games – After his disappointing performance in the Olympics, Milkha returned to the tracks in Jakarta, where ‘The Flying Sikh’ won the gold in the 400 meters and 4 x 400 relay as well.
After 1964, Milkha hung up his boots. He had participated in the National Games and won a few gold and silver medals before 1964, but ‘The Flying Sikh’ understood that he could no longer keep up like he used to.
For his achievements, Milkha was awarded the Padma Shri Award in 1959 following his success at the 1958 Asian Games. Later on, he became the Director of Sports in the Punjab Ministry of Education.
In 2013, Milkha’s daughter Sonia Sanwalka wrote his autobiography titled ‘The Race of My Life’. The book eventually inspired film director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra to create a film on the athete’s life titled, ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’.
Other than the movie and auto-biography, Milkha also has a wax statue which has been created by the Madame Tussauds in Chandigarh.