Highlights

  • Born in Govindpura, Punjab (present-day Punjab, Pakistan), Milkha Singh had a tragic childhood. His parents and some of his siblings were killed in the violence that erupted during the partition.
  • After living in various refugee camps and sometimes even the railway station, Singh moved in with a married sister in Delhi. However, as a result of the traumatic experience during the partition, he was inclined to become a dacoit.
  • After some persuasion by his brother, Milkha decided to join the Indian Army. His life changed drastically when he started running.
  • First through Inter-Services tournaments and later at the international level, Singh proved his mettle.
  • The Flying Sikh of India made numerous records and won a lot of medals. His dream run at the Asian Games and Olympic qualification catapulted him to an iconic status. His 400 meters national record stood for 38 years!

For most athletes, their sport is their passion. It is a long cherished dream. These sportsmen attain great success in their lives. We can call them champions. Every once in a while comes a person for whom, the sport is life. Every single action eventually helps them live this chosen life. It is not just a question of trying, but simply being. These are not ordinary champions, they are legends. These legends have redefined sports in India with their courage and dedication. Today we explore the life of one such legendary individual – Milkha Singh!

Milkha Singh – The Man Who Never Stopped Running

Milkha Singh KreedOn
Flying Sikh of India – Milkha Singh

Milkha Singh is undoubtedly one of the most well-known Indian athletes. For him running wasn’t just about medals and recognition, it was about time. He wanted to chase timings and excel with each run. This continuous thirst for betterment is the true catalyst for his success. However, his professional running pursuits came much later. Ever since he was a little boy, Milkha was a runner. First, he used to run to school every day.

When his parents were killed in the violence that started due to the partition, his father told him to run away. “Bhaag, Milkha, Bhaag“, he said. Ever since Milkha is running. First, he ran away from all the violence. Then he ran towards a better life. And eventually, he ran for success.

Quick Facts

  • Date of Birth: 20 November 1929
  • Place of Birth: Govindpura, Punjab (present-day Punjab, Pakistan)
  • Height: 172 cm
  • Weight: 80 kg
  • Spouse: Nirmal Kaur
  • Children: Jeev Milkha Singh, Sonia Sanwalka
  • Sport: Track and Field

Milkha Singh – Family Background and Early Life

Milkha Singh with his family KreedOn
Milkha Singh with his family

Singh was born in a Rajput Sikh family from Govindpura village in Punjab (present Pakistan). He had fourteen siblings. However, eight out of them died soon. Singh has had a very tragic childhood. He witnessed the murders of his parents, a brother, and two sisters. It is absolutely unfathomable how this violence must have affected little Milkha. All this happened at the time of partition.

The next few years were very difficult for Singh. He tried to live with a married sister in Delhi, but couldn’t settle down properly. He got into legal trouble and spent some days in refugee camps. A breakthrough finally came when he cleared the Army entrance. Though it took Milkha Singh four attempts, it finally changed his life for the better.

Milkha Singh – Wife

Milkha Singh with his wife
Mr. and Mrs. Singh

Milkha Singh met his wife, Nirmal Saini, in Colombo in the year 1956. Nirmal Saini was the captain of the Indian women’s volleyball team. There was an instant connection between the two. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stay in touch later. Destiny played a major role in their reunion. Singh visited the Patiala to present a lecture in a physical education college. To his utter delight, Saini was present in the audience. After a courtship of around two years, they decided to get married. Initially there was resistance from their families due to religious differences, but eventually, things worked out.

Milkha Singh – Son

Milkha Singh’s son, Jeev Milkha Singh is a professional golfer. In October 2006, he entered the top 100 of Official World Golf Ranking. He became the first Indian to achieve this feat. He is a recipient of the prestigious Padma Shree award.

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  • Milkha Singh, who has inspired hundreds, is himself a big fan of American athlete, Charles Jenkins.
  • He is a recipient of the illustrious Padma Shree Award. The government offered it to him after his excellent performance in 1958 Asian Games. He was also offered the Arjuna Award in 2001. He politely declined the award as it celebrates the achievements of the youth in sports.
  • General Ayub Khan of Pakistan bequeathed him the title ‘Flying Sikh of India’ after his spectacular performance at the Asian Games.
  • Singh was inclined to become a dacoit! He was so scarred by the violence he witnessed as a child, being a dacoit seemed the only way. Fortunately, for him, his life changed for better after joining the Army.
  • There were days when Singh used to pass out on the track due to exhaustion. He has vomited blood also during training, but he never gave up.
  • After joining the Army as a technical jawan, his first salary was Rs 39 and 8 anna.
  • Milkha Singh has donated all his medals to the Indian government.
  • The movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag made Singh very popular among the youth. It portrayed his life very beautifully on the big screen. Actor Farhan Akhtar played his character onscreen.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

Milkha singh featured on KreedOn
Milkha Singh (extreme right) during a race

Singh’s first race was at army’s Electrical Mechanical Engineering Centre in Secunderabad. He finished sixth in the event. It was a cross-country race and Singh was used to running long distances. He became a 400 meters sprinter purely by destiny. His Army unit needed a runner at an Inter-Services meet and his commander asked him to fill in. At that point, Milkha wasn’t even sure of how much distance 400 meters was. Though he finished sixth, it was the start of greater things.

He was a part of the Indian squad for the 1956 Olympics. He crashed out of the tournaments in the heats itself. That defeat ignited a fire of passion in him. Running became the sole purpose of his life.

The year 1958 is truly a golden year of Milka Singh’s life. Firstly, he made the entire nation proud by winning the gold in 440 yards race at the Commonwealth Games. He became the first Indian male to win a Commonwealth individual medal.

 

His dream run continued in the Asian Games as well. He came home with the 200 meters as well as 400 meters gold medal. The atmosphere back home was euphoric because of his win.

At the 1960 Rome Olympics, he made the national record of covering 400 meters in 45.60 seconds. This record stayed unbeaten for 38 years. However, his Olympics journey was heartbreaking for him as well as all Indians. He lost out on a podium finish because of 0.1 seconds. Otis Davis won the race with a superb timing 0f 45.07, while Germany’s Carl Kaufmann won the silver with 45.08 seconds. It was an extremely close contested race. Milkha lost out to South African sprinter Malcolm Spence, who clocked 45.50 seconds.

My last wish is to see an Indian athlete winning an Olympic medal,” he told the  First Post in an interview. We do hope that his wish comes true soon enough.

The Asian Games 1962 once again brought a lot of cheer for all Indians. This Milkha Singh won an individual gold in the 400 meters event and another gold in the 4 x 400 m relay team event.

Who Broke Milkha Singh’s National Record?

Milkha Singh set a national record of 45.70 seconds in the 1960 Olympics 400m final. The record remained unbeaten for next 38 years! Paramjeet Singh finally broke it on November 4, 1998. He achieved this stellar feat at the Indian National Open Athletics Meet. However, there was a lot of confusion about this record. When Milkha Singh set the record, it was hand-timed as 45.60. However, once the electronic timers were installed, 0.14 seconds were added to all previous records. This was done to compensate for the advantage of slower reaction time. Therefore, as per this, Paramjeet broke Milkha Singh’s record, but Singh wasn’t ready to accept the fact.

Where is Milkha Singh Now?

Singh has retired from all of his active positions and lives in Chandigarh with his wife Nirmal Saini now.

After a very traumatic childhood, Milkha Singh managed to have a stellar life. Instead of letting the bad situation get the better of him, he fought back to take control of his life. It is very easy to blame your destiny, but it is difficult to shape it as per your wish. Singh could have turned into a dacoit, but he was a fighter. His life is truly an inspiration for all of us. His journey will not only motivate all athletes but also give hope to those who are stuck. Life isn’t about simply following a predetermined path, it is about making one of your own.

Achievements

Asian Games

YearPlaceEventMedal
1958Tokyo, Japan200 metersGold
1958Tokyo, Japan400 metersGold
1962Jakarta, Indonesia400 metersGold
1962Jakarta, Indonesia4 x 400 m relayGold

 

National Games of India

YearPlaceEventMedal
1958Cuttack, India200 metersGold
1958Cuttack, India200 metersGold
1964Calcutta, India400 metersSilver

 

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