Video Interview with Milkha Singh

Part 1 – Interview with the Legend Milkha Singh


Part 2 – Interview with the Legend Milkha Singh

One would wonder that we do not lack in inspirational stories. And that in an ideal world, we can pick any leaf from the history and teach our kids to do the impossible. But is it?

The bigger PR is always given (or taken away) by the celebrities, who might not even come close to the impact, struggle or inspirational factor required to actually succeed in life. I am not saying that their struggles are not authentic. Their struggles in life are for Fame and that is what you get. Lest we forget is that the real inspirational or motivational stories are that of legends who did it not for fame but for passion, to be great at one thing in life. And so did they, and the fame followed!

So the point that I am trying to make is that we need to teach our kids to be inspired by such legends who did not do it for fame but for the passion of it. Let the fame follow but at least you are producing a future legend. Milkha Singh was and still is one such great legend. He fought all the odds in his life to come out a winner eventually. He showed us by example that, how determination and passion can drive you to ultimate success.
It does not matter if you wear Nike shoes or clean shorts, it does not matter if you get to practice in a stadium or in the fields. What matters is that are you doing it right now? And are you doing it to please your soul or the world?

Chandigarh, Legendary athlete Milkha Singh’s inspiring life – the triumphant spirit of the man and his tale of winning the world despite daunting odds – will soon be seen on the silver screen.

“Rang De Basanti” fame filmmaker Rakeysh Omparkash Mehra is all set to make a film “Bhag Milkha Bhag,” recounting the stimulating story of Milkha Singh, who is popularly known as Flying Sikh all across the world.

“‘Bhag Milkha Bhag’ is not about any particular sport, trophies or medals, but it is about the fire that Milkha Singh had. I just want to spread this fire across the world and want people to learn from it,” Mehra, who was in Chandigarh along with Milkha Singh and lyricist Prasoon Joshi to announce the making of the film, said Saturday.

He added: “Milkha Singh’s life was full of troubles and hiccups but despite all this, he came out a winner. I think it is really necessary to take this meaningful story to the masses.”

Singh was quite reluctant about giving a green signal to the project but the intervention of his son Jeev Milkha Singh, who is an ace golfer, set the things on the right track.


“In the past, many filmmakers had offered me crores of rupees to sell them my story but it was really difficult for me to believe anybody. This time my son Jeev, who had seen Mehra’s ‘Rang De Basanti’, convinced me and said the film was in safe hands,” Milkha Singh told IANS.

“Now I am very happy and I have charged only one rupee from them. I just want others to extract motivation out of the movie. They should believe in themselves: if a village boy like me can win laurels for the country with meagre resources and virtually no support, why can’t anyone else?” said Singh.

The movie will be shot at various locales in India besides in Japan, Pakistan and some European countries.Mehra is very meticulously choosing his team to give the film the perfect touch. Joshi is writing the screenplay of the film.

Joshi said: “I have met Milkha Singh many times in the last few months in connection with this new project. We have to do a lot of homework as we are aiming to tell a story of a man who rose from nowhere and attained various benchmarks in athletics in a cricket-obsessed country.”

BANGALORE: One rupee. That’s the princely sum for which Milkha Singh – The Flying Sikh – has handed over his life story to filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.

Milkha has his reasons for turning down the eight-figure sum offered to him. If ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ were to become a hit like ‘Rang De Basanti’, inspire our young people and result in India’s first Olympic track gold, that’s reward enough for him.

Singh says, “This is the year of the Commonwealth Games. I feel sad to say that 52 years after I won a gold in the Cardiff Games, India hasn’t been able to win a gold in track events.”

Milkha is counting on Mehra’s biopic to inspire India’s youth with the story of an unassuming athlete who fought mind-numbing hardship and personal loss to win universal acclaim through sheer grit and determination.

And who among the Bollywood A-listers could best essay him on screen? Milkha is non-committal, saying the cast has not been finalised. But the buzz is that it could be ‘Khiladi’ Akshay Kumar, the most sporty of our heroes with Deepika Padukone, with her special badminton genes, playing the female lead.

Born in Lyallpur (now in Pakistan) in 1935, Milkha was a battle-hardened soul even before he let go of his childhood. As a 12-year-old during Partition, he was witness to the spine-chilling sight of his parents being butchered in front of his eyes.

A few sobs later, his heart was in his mouth as he escaped the clutches of death, concealing himself among corpses on the train to India.

Recovery wasn’t easy but Milkha conquered the odds and before long, had won the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold in 1958 and famously lost the 400m bronze in the Rome Olympics by the proverbial coat of paint.


“I want Indian youth to understand what determination and purpose can achieve. If a Milkha, who didn’t have access to even basic necessities of life, can aim for the skies, why not others who’ve been provided the best of facilities?” he asks.

For the man who won 77 of the 80 races he ran, Milkha Singh has no medals. It has been some years that ‘The Flying Sikh’ donated his sporting treasures to the nation. No personal souvenirs line his living room walls, no trophies sit on the mantle. Instead, the walls make do with pictures of the surgeon in America who saved his wife’s life and Havildar Bikram Singh, a Kargil martyr. “I have given permission that my medals be transferred from the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New  Delhi to the sports museum in Patiala,” says the 72-year-old Singh. Strangely, the stadium gallery lined with many of India’s sporting talent  does not have a single picture of Milkha Singh. In a country where great sportspersons are few and far between, India has a strange way of  honouring its stars.

But Milkha Singh’s achievements can do without such testimony. “The people of this country remember me. I may have started dyeing my beard but I am recognised at airports, railway stations — anywhere. School textbooks have chapters on me, and somehow the sobriquet ‘The Flying Sikh’ has endured in people’s memory,” he says. Singh, however, has no complaints about the recognition given to him by the government. A Padma Shri and Arjuna Award winner, the legendary athlete who started his career on a Rs 10 wage went on to become director, sports, ministry of education in the Punjab government. “I have received more than I deserved.”

It was a hard uphill climb for the refugee from Muzaffargarh in west Pakistan. The Partition massacres of 1947 took the lives of his parents and Singh was rejected by the army thrice. He subsequently enrolled in the army’s electrical mechanical engineering branch in 1952 when his brother Malkhan Singh put in a word for him, and experienced his first sport outing at its athletics meet a fortnight later. “That was the first time I saw a ground bedecked with flags,” reminisces Singh. “I later participated in a crosscountry race with 300 to 400 jawans. And sat down after the first half mile before starting again — that was my first race.”

Determined to be the best and realising his talent as a sprinter, the jawan took to training five hours every day.milkha singh at 1960 OlympicsMotivated by his coach Havildar Gurdev Singh, he left it to the elements to hone his craft — running on the hills, the sands of the Yamuna river, and against the speed of a metre gauge train. He says so intense was his training that very often he vomitted blood and would collapse in exhaustion.

Every morning Milkha Singh still goes for a jog by the Sukhna lake in Chandigarh. Most afternoons are spent playing golf and he uses the gym in his house regularly. “Discipline. You have to be disciplined if you want to be world class,” he says, “That’s what I tell my son Jeev. I give him the example of Tiger Woods, and hope he would bring the medal I couldn’t.” Jeev Milkha Singh, India’s best golfer, was recently awarded the Arjuna Award and is striving to make a mark on the international golf circuit. Whether he does manage to bring the sporting glory that eluded his father, is yet to be seen. Till then, it is a disappointment that Milkha Singh will never forget. Forty years on, that failure in Rome still haunts him. 1960. The Olympics at Rome

After clocking a world record 45.8 seconds in one of the 400 metres preliminaries in France, Milkha Singh finished fourth in a photofinish in the Olympics final. The favourite for gold had missed the bronze. By a fraction… “Since it was a photofinish, the announcements were held up. The suspense was excruciating. I knew what my fatal error was: After running perilously fast in lane five, I slowed down at 250 metres. I could not cover the lost ground after that — and that cost me the race.” “After the death of my parents, that is my worst memory,” says Singh, “I kept crying for days.” Dejected by his defeat, he made up his mind to give up sport. It was after much persuasion that he took to athletics again. Two years later, Milkha Singh won two medals at the 1962 Asian Games. But by then his golden period was over.

It was between 1958 and 1960 that Milkha Singh saw the height of glory. From setting a new record in the 200 and 400 metres at the Cuttack National Games, he won two gold medals at the Asian Games at Tokyo. The lean Sikh went on to win gold at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, and was awarded the Helms trophy or being the best athlete in 1959.

Three years before the Indo-Pak war of 1965, Milkha Singh ran that one race which made President Ayub Khan christen him ‘The Flying Sikh.’ His defeat of Pakistan’s leading athlete and winner of the 100 metres gold at the Tokyo Asiad, Abdul Khaliq, earned him India’s bestknown sports sobriquet. “It has stuck since,” he adds.

Thirtysix years later, Britain’s Ann Packer remembers him too. This time for his camaraderie. Jittery about her performance in the 800 metres against formidable French German and Hungarian athletes in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Packer clearly remembered her encounter with Singh in the lift they shared on the day of her event. ‘Ann you vill win,’ she recounted Singh’s words to a The Sunday Times journalist at her home in Cheshire recently. And vin she did. Packer clocked 2min 1.1 sec and set a new world record. Singh was among the first to congratulate her.

There are many who still congratulate Milkha Singh. “Sirji, I remember seeing you when I was a young recruit in the army,” said Gairwar Singh as he chanced upon the former athlete getting into his car outside the Chandigarh Golf Club. Elated that Singh stops to shake hands with him, Gairwar Singh — now a driver with a transport company in Delhi — tells him about his interest in wrestling. “It is appreciation from the people that helps me go ahead at this age,” Singh had earlier said at his home in Sector 8, Chandigarh. With two of his daughters married and one away in the United States, and his son travelling around the world regularly — Singh says he enjoys the tranquility. Last year, he adopted the seven-year-old son of Havildar Bikram Singh who died in the Battle for Tiger Hill. The child is at a boarding school and Singh has taken on the responsibility of bringing him up.

“We owe it to those who have died for the honour of our country,” he says, “Unlike our cricketers who have sold our country.” Deeply disappointed with these ambassadors of India’s most popular game, he firmly believes the guilty should be punished. “They cannot mock the aspirations of an entire nation,” says Singh surveying the debris of many a fallen sporting icon.

Decades after he hung up his running shoes, one thing is for sure — the Flying Sikh still stands tall. ‘He has been a great source of inspiration’


Milha Singh

The Flying Sikh

Sardar Milkha Singh is the greatest living Sikh Athlete. Born in a family of modest means, joining the army and then discovering the penchant for running and winning is his life in summation.

He deservedly got an epithet named “Flying Sikh” from Pakistan General Ayub Khan. Till date (Until 2000 Sydney Olympics) the ‘Flying Sikh’ is the only Indian to have broken an Olympic record.

Unfortunately, he was the fourth athlete to reset the mark and thus missed the bronze medal in the 400m event at the Rome Olympics in 1960.