From the Viewsroom

Towering in sport, and life

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on June 20, 2021

Milkha Singh was a gentle giant who was way beyond awards

If you watched a film where a young boy runs from a country where his parents are killed, lives on railway-stations in another country, does some jail-time, joins the army after several attempts, gets feted in the very country his parents died and goes on to win international fame in the country where he eventually lived and died — you’d probably find the storyline too contrived.

But that was Milka Singh’s life, narrated repeatedly now, on his passing. And the clamour has begun to award him the Bharat Ratna, posthumously. That, is many, many years too late, for a person who should have been celebrated by the country as a national icon.

Those who knew him personally vouch that the gentle giant always had time for others and never spoke about his own achievements. And it’s quite telling that a legend like him and his wife (who passed days before him), also a sportsperson, did not want their child to take up sport as a career. In his own words, sportspersons like hockey-icon Dhyan Chand or cricket’s Lala Amarnath barely received any money or support.

While that may have been a different time, what has not changed is the recognition and support given to home-grown personalities. Sports-arenas are named after politicians and business-houses, that tells us enough.

And while no one grudges cricket its attention, it remains a sport in a handful of countries. An international arena is an entirely different play, and that’s where Milkha Singh, Dhyan Chand, Vijay Amritraj or Ramanathan Krishnan, to name a few trail-blazers, made their mark.

But there’s another feature to Singh, that shines through the present-day divisive discourse that people and politicians indulge in. Milkha Singh competed hard, but did not stand for hatred. He oft recounted that “flying sikh” was a title from then Pakistan President. And that when Milkha ran, both countries ran with him. In his passing, India has lost a sports-icon and a towering role-model, way beyond any award.

Published on June 20, 2021

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