India’s legendary track and field athlete Milkha Singh breathed his last on Friday at the age of 91 after a prolonged battle with Covid-related complications.
Born in Layalpur, in undivided India and now in Pakistan, Milkha Singh announced his arrival at the international stage in the 1958 Asian Games held in Tokyo. He claimed a golden double(200m and 400m) at the seventh Asian Games, famously beating Pakistan Adbul Khaliq in a photo-finish in the 200m dash. The Pakistani sprinter was at that time considered Asia’s fastest runner.
Abdul Khaliq who sadly passed away in 1988 had a similar back story like Milkha Singh. Just like Milkha, Abdul, too, rose from poverty to become a world-class athlete. He too joined the army and it was army training that led them to take up athletics.
Drawing a comparison between the two, Abdul Khaliq’s son Mohammad Eijaz told The Indian Express that Milkha Singh’s death is a loss to both India and Pakistan and his family as well.
He also revealed the stories he had heard from his uncle about his father and Milkha Singh’s friendly rivalry. Eijaz said that he was told that his father went silent after the 200m race in Tokyo. According to him, during the 4x100m relay race in the same event, Abdul Khaliq after receiving the baton waited for Milkha Singh to come close. Once he was next to him, he said, “Milkha sahib, ab zor lagana (Milkha sahib, give it your all now)”.
He also said how Milkha Singh went to Meerut to meet Abdul Khaliq, who was a Prisoner of War after the Bangladesh War and asked the jail officials to take extra care of him.
Eijaz first spoke to Mikha Singh in 2009 when Abdul Khaliq’s family was contacted regarding the rights of the sprinter’s portrayal in the biopic Bhaag Mikha Bhaag. He told The Indian Express how Milkha Singh was in all praise of his father, “Putt, tera bapu boht wadda athlete tha (Son, your father was a great athlete). I became Flying Sikh upon defeating him. My fame is due to him.”
He also spoke to Abdul Khaliq’s wife and before hanging up, he told Eijaz, “Mothers are a form of God and all of us should take care of them as much as we can.”
When I asked him about that meeting, Milkhaji confirmed it and even invited me to visit India. Alas, our wish to meet the legend remained unfulfilled.
Earlier this month, Eijaz and his family lost his uncle Abdul Malik, a 1960 Olympian, and now the news of Milkhaji’s passing is like another loss for our family and country.
He also said that his mother Valayat Begum sends her condolences to Milkha Singh’s family and the people of India.