Movies can sometimes re-introduce forgotten heroes to the future generations of a nation.
“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” which is inspired by the story of the almost forgotten Indian athlete Milkha Singh could well inspire a new set of sprinters to dream and fulfill the Indian dream of an Olympic Gold. Many know Milkha Singh as the great athlete who fell short of the Olympic Bronze by a whisker in the 400 meters race in 1960 in Rome.
He had slowed down in the middle of the race but it was a miscalculation that proved too costly.
However earlier when he had broken a previous Olympic record, he had become a legend in his native land.
He won several National Championships. In 1958, he won the 400 meter at Cardiff Commonwealth Games. He had beaten the 1954 Asian Champion, Pakistani athlete Abdul Khaliq who was dubbed as the fastest man in Asia, at a previous event. A section of Pakistani administration challenged Milkha to beat Khaliq in Pakistan.
For someone who had lost his parents during partition, he had initially hesitant to participate in an event in Pakistan, but Pandit Nehru, the then Indian Prime Minister persuaded him to change his decision. A sport is a place for dignified competition. A reluctant Milkha went to Pakistan and the turn of events inspired him to perform extraordinarily.
What was the outcome of the race? As the movie is on the verge of release, don’t want to play the spoilsport. Through the movie one hopes, the entire nation can relive those moments, and athletes worldwide draw some positive inspiration. At the event he did give his best and legend says that he did not appear to run. It seemed that he was flying. It was in Pakistan in 1960 that he was hailed as the Flying Sikh by none other than General Ayub Khan.
Milkha Singh has donated all his trophies, medals, uniforms and blazers among other items to the National Sports Museum in JNS, Delhi.
One newspaper in Lahore, Pakistan had put up one of its headlines on the Eve of the match as: “Khaliq ki Taqqar Milkha se” (Its Khaliq versus Milka). Watch out for the competition.
portrait by Amrit