This Sikh doesn't have a 'Flying' background

Living legend

This Sikh doesn't have a 'Flying' background

Behind the adulation over his unbeaten athletic feat 55 years ago, Milkha Singh’s lesser known story of appalling misfortune, penury and eventual triumph explains what it takes to be the “Flying Sikh.”

A biopic on Milkha Singh, “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,” releases on Friday. But, 37 years ago, this iconic athlete, whose record of winning India’s first gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958 still remains unbeaten, penned down some touching moments of his life in his out-of-print autobiography, “Flying Sikh Milkha Singh.”

As a teenager, Singh had to spend 20 days in prison as he did not even have Rs 5 to pay fine for travelling without ticket on a train from Shahdara to Delhi, reveals his autobiography. In fact, the magistrate sentenced Singh to three-month jail for the offence. His sister sold her earrings to pay the fine and get him out of prison.

Singh has a vague idea about his birthday. He writes that he must have been around 14-15 years old at the time of the Partition. The days of the Partition left him traumatised and devastated. His parents and four siblings (three brothers and a sister) were killed in riots at Gobindpura in Pakistan.

An exclusive screening of the movie was held at the Western Command Chandimandir on Thursday, where the cast, crew and Singh interacted with Lieutenant General Philip Campose, the general officer commanding-in-chief and others.

Singh’s present opulence has scars of poverty. At times, he had to polish shoes to get food. He recounts how he travelled to Delhi on the roof of a train. With no place to stay, he spent nights on railway platforms. He writes, “Forget going to school, it was hard to get a meal then.” Singh says he fell in bad company. Watching movies became his hobby.

For buying tickets, Milkha writes, he, along with other boys, started stealing and gambling. After being rejected thrice, in the winter of 1952, Milkha finally got a job in the Army and was posted to Srinagar.

The book talks about how he and his squad were scared to death during their first flight in 1956 during the Melbourne Olympics. Milkha writes: “Some of us were doubtful if the plane would take off with so many passengers. We were so scared during the take-off that we were continuously chanting Waheguru Waheguru.”

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