The present article may have nothing new to convey to you as the name Milkha Singh is not new for those who follow sports at any level nor some of the important achievements of independent India’s first super sportsman would be new for the readers as a biopic on him has ensured that even the cinema goers have a detailed knowledge about this Flying Sikh’s achievements. However, this article is The Teenager Today’s homage to an Indian athlete who for the first time made the world aware of independent India’s athletic potential.
Milkha Singh’s life story is a mix of tragedy and solace. Perhaps, the most tragic moment in his life must have been when as a teenager he saw the killing of his parents in the heinous rampage that followed India’s partition in 1947, but he was fortunate to have survived and found a safe refuge in India. He was fortunate to be recruited in the Indian Army which became mainly responsible for giving him the impetus to take to running but perhaps the same Army rules also restricted his elevation to the rank of an Honorary Captain and not beyond to that of an Honorary Major or Honorary Lieutenant Colonel. However, his achievements on the tracks were recognised by the country when he was awarded the Padma Shri in 1958 and in the process became the first ever athlete to receive such an honour. As a passing reference, it is worth mentioning that in 2007 when Milkha Singh’s son Jeev Milkha Singh was awarded the Padma Shri, it was the first time in India that a father-son sporting combination had received such an honour.
It is interesting to note that Milkha Singh’s name never came up for the Arjuna Award till 2001 when the Sports Ministry realised suddenly about its failing. However, the ever polite Milkha refused the Award on the pretext that the Award was meant for younger sportsmen and not for veterans like him. Later, he was more frank about the whole affair and made it clear that conferring an Arjuna Award after having been conferred the Padma Shri was synonymous to awarding someone with a Senior School Certificate after that someone had already received a post graduate degree.
Gp Capt Achchyut Kumar has been associated with The Teenager Today for more than 50 years; initially as a reader and later as a contributor on varied topics. Having worked in the Indian Air Force and in India’s oldest company, Forbes & Company Limited, he is now practising as a lawyer in Nainital High Court.