‘Milkha Singh gave hope to the people of Chandigarh’
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‘Milkha Singh gave hope to the people of Chandigarh’

The highs and lows of Milkha Singh’s life made for a story worth telling

‘Milkha Singh gave hope to the people of Chandigarh’

New Delhi: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was all everyone was talking about in 2013 - a movie about the legendary Indian Sikh sprinter Milkha Singh. I was only 13 back then and going to theatres to watch movies was not a normal affair for me, so I waited for it to air on TV. My elder cousin had watched it and couldn’t stop talking about how good it was. I was naturally intrigued to see what the fuss was all about. Finally, I watched the movie on TV with my grandfather and I remember going through a rollercoaster of emotions while watching it, even though my 13-year-old brain couldn’t possibly grasp everything in that masterpiece. As soon as the movie was over, I googled Milkha Singh and didn’t stop and that was my first introduction to this legend.

It’s quite certain that the gen-z and even millennials came to know about Milkha Singh through Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and no doubt the movie was a hit! It was a true heroic coming of age tale after all. The highs and lows of Milkha Singh’s life made for a story worth telling. The horrors he had to go through during the partition of India-Pakistan and how that affected him even when he was at the peak of his career clearly throws a light on not just him, but a lot others like him who lost everything they had just like that. That chapter in India’s history is dark and from that darkness rose ‘The Flying Sikh’.

I wanted to know so much about this person after I watched the movie. Even though it was a long watch of more than 3 hours, can a movie possibly sum up everything about this great of a personality? I think not. The best part of reading about Milkha Singh was how strong he was still going even in 2013, when a biography was being made about him! What a legend you have to be to see your own Bollywood biography being made and kudos to Farhan Akhtar for nailing this on-screen portrayal. From extremely ripped physique to the accent and essence of what made Milkha Singh so special, Akhtar got it all! Even Milkha Singh was impressed by his performance and that’s the epitome of validation.

Milkha Singh lived in Chandigarh for a better part of his life and thus, has a huge influence there. I talked to Sucharita Sengupta who is originally from Chandigarh and currently is a professor in Jamia Millia Islamia. She said, “Since I was a kid, I have been hearing about Milkha Singh because he was such an iconic figure in Chandigarh. There are different sides to his story - his star-studded personality, his life story of how he overcame all the obstacles and achieved such great heights. Even though he is an inspirational figure, he is also very grounded for the people in Chandigarh. His story, his struggles resonated with a lot of people over there.”

She further said, “He gave hope to the people of Chandigarh as it was a small city back then but he reminded us of how far we can go and what all we can achieve being from a small city. Milkha Singh was also very connected to the community of Chandigarh, he’d attend several events as the guest of honor, he’d talk to people. His wife was also captain of the India women’s national volleyball team and his son went on to become a golfer, the whole family is deeply embedded in the city. People in Chandigarh are grieving like they have lost someone of their own.”

Talking about Chandigarh, Sengupta also said that the city has its own share of achievers like Milkha Singh, Kapil Dev, and so on. “Chandigarh as a city is convenient, especially for senior citizens. The people here are grounded and simple. There is a sense of humility people have here, even if they’re a celebrity. Milkha ji used to share posts even during Covid to spread positivity and hope and it was good to see him going so strong. If I have to describe him in one word, I’d say ‘ICON’,” she further added.

I also talked to Abhijit Chatterjee, former sports editor, The Tribune from Chandigarh and he said that Milkha Singh has a sporting influence on the city. “He helped in setting up Punjab sports schools. I met him quite some times and he was a happy go lucky man, he loved his way of life, his wife, his children as any father would. He was a very regular member of the golf club and inspired not just athletes, but golfers, tennis players, and anyone who played any sports, he used to attend all sporting events in Chandigarh,” he said.

He further added, “He struggled a lot to get the life he had, things weren’t easy for him. He was so good that he set the bar very high for all athletes produced by India. He has inspired generations of not just athletes, but people from all sports.”

Today, we have lost Milkha Singh but he will stay with us and continue to inspire millions.