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When people of Cardiff said, “India is Nothing”, Milkha Singh gave a befitting reply with a thumping win

Milkha Singh breathed his last on 19 June 2021 at Chandigarh’s PGI Hospital after being infected with Corona. His wife, Nirmal Singh (85), died five days ago.

One of the priceless gems of India, the star of the Indian sports world, the famous sprinter, said goodbye to us on 19 June 2021. The respect that Milkha Singh brought to the country in the world during his illustrious life span of 91 years is unforgettable. He is that pole star shining on the summit of India, which is far from reach but cannot be removed from memories. May his shine never fade.

Life of Milkha Singh full of struggle

Milkha Singh was born on 20 November 1929 in Govindpura village of Muzaffargarh, Punjab (now in Pakistan, Muzaffargarh). He had 15 siblings, 8 of whom died before the partition of India-Pakistan. In the riots, his parents, a brother and two sisters were killed before their eyes, and Milkha became an orphan. For some days, he stayed at the house of his married sister Ishtar.

For travelling without a ticket on the train, he was imprisoned in ‘Tihar Jail’. To get him released, his sister sold her jewellery. Milkha Singh, who was becoming a dacoit due to a lack of life, was advised by Bhai Malkhan to join the ongoing recruitment in the Indian Army. Milkha was successful in his fourth attempt in 1951, and during his posting at the Electrical Mechanical Engineering Center in Secunderabad, he was introduced to runners and started running from here.

International Career of Milkha Singh

Singh represented India in the 200 m and 400 m events of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. With little experience at the time, he could not do any feats, but a meeting with 400m champion Charles Jenkins at the end of those games inspired him in many ways and gave him an insight into training.

In 1958, Milkha Singh was the first player who raised India’s head on the global sports stage after independence. After that race, both Singh and the country got a new identity.

When people of Cardiff said – “What is India? India is Nothing.”

In an interview to the Times of India, Milkha Singh said, “I had come to participate in the 1958 Commonwealth Games (Cardiff, Wales) after winning two gold medals (200m and 400m) at the Tokyo Asian Games. World-class athletes from Jamaica, South Africa, Kenya, England, Canada and Australia were there. The challenge in Cardiff was very tough. The people of Cardiff used to think: ‘What is India? India is nothing.’ I was not sure if I could win gold in Commonwealth Games. There was never that kind of confidence as I was up against world record holder Malcolm Clive Spence (South Africa). He was the best sprinter in the world at that time in the 400m race.”

Milkha Singh said, “I will give credit for the victory to my American coach, Dr Arthur W. Howard. He saw Spence running in the first and second rounds. The night before the final race, he sat on the cot and said to me, “Milkha, I understand a little bit of Hindi, but let me tell you about Malcolm Spence’s strategy and what you should do.”

The coach told me that Spence runs slow in the first 300-350 meters of his race and beats the rest in the final stretch. Dr. Howard said you must go at full speed from the beginning because you have stamina. If you do that, Spencer will forget his strategy.'”

World’s best runner forgot his strategy.

He had told, “The race was to be held at the Cardiff Arms Park Stadium. I was on the outer lane number 5 and Spence on the second. I ran with all my might from the start, ran very fast for the last 50 metres, and as Dr. Howard said Spence realized that ‘Singh has gone a long way.’ I could see that Spence had forgotten his strategy because he was on my side. He started running fast, and at last, he was only a foot behind me. He was by my shoulders till the end but could not defeat me. I finished the race in 46.6 seconds, and he did in 46.9.”

When PM Nehru asked for a day’s leave

That gold medal won by Milkha Singh in Cardiff was an ample opportunity for India. After the victory, when the Queen presented him with a gold medal. About one lakh Englishmen were sitting in the stadium; Indians were few and far between. As soon as the queen went wearing the gold medal, she sat beside the queen; a woman in a sari ran to the lion and said- “Milkha Ji… a message from Pandit Ji (Jawaharlal Nehru) has come, he has said ask Milkha. What do they need?

If he wanted at that time, he could have asked for land for himself in any corner of the country or a house in Delhi. But do you know what they asked? Milkha Singh asked the first Prime Minister of independent India for a day’s leave for himself. He used to work in the Indian Army, and after the victory, he had asked for a day’s rest to share happiness with his sister.

When Milkha Singh wrote a number on girlfriend’s palm

Milkha Singh’s wife, Nirmal Kaur, was born on 8 October 1938 in Sheikhpura, Pakistan; she was also associated with the sports world. The two first met in 1955 while participating in a tournament in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Nirmal was the Punjab volleyball team captain, and Milkha Singh was part of the athletics team. On this tour, an Indian businessman had invited the volleyball team and athletics team for dinner. Milkha Singh once said that talking to a woman was like talking to a man to God in those days.

Nirmal Kaur was in love with Milkha Singh at first sight. Milkha wanted to pursue this relationship but was unable to say it. However, before returning, he had cleared the way ahead. While returning from the party, Milkha wrote his hotel number on Nirmal’s hand. The two started talking after some time, and in the year 1958, both of them met once again.

Milkha won the race of love too.

Milkha Singh & Nirmala Singh

The love story of both of them started in the year 1960 when the two met again at the National Stadium in Delhi. By then, Milkha Singh had earned a lot of names. Both used to spend a lot of time together. In 1960, the Sports Administration in Chandigarh made Milkha the Deputy Director of Sports and Nirmal was made the Director of Women Sports.

By then, the relationship between the two was also being discussed everywhere. It was then that both of them decided that they would spend the rest of their lives with each other. By then, Milkha and Nirmal had decided to spend their lives together. However, due to differences between the two families, there were hurdles in the marriage. But Milkha also won this race and got Nirmal Kaur’s support for nearly 58 years as a medal; both of them got married.

Nirmal had a master’s degree in political science. Her special thing was that she always wore salwar-kameez instead of the skirt whether she played national matches or international. Milkha Singh used to say that even in his absence, the wife did not allow any shortage in the upbringing of the children. Milkha-Nirmal’s daughter Doctor and son Jeev Milkha are famous golf players.

Milkha Singh breathed his last on 19 June 2021 at Chandigarh’s PGI Hospital after being infected with Corona. His wife, Nirmal Singh (85), died five days ago. Both used to love each other immensely. Nature also supported them in fulfilling the vow that both of them had taken to live and die together. Even death could not separate the two.

Players like Milkha Singh are not in lakhs but one in crores. India will never forget its Flying Sikh!

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