“His loss to our family, to Pakistan”

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(Written by MOHAMMAD EJAZ)

With the death of Milkha Singhji, the world lost a brilliant athlete. Legendary athletes are like family jewels for their countries and given the shared history of our nations, this is a loss for both India and Pakistan.

Rivals on the track, my father and Milkhaji had a lot in common.

Growing up in Rawalpindi’s Jand Awan village, my father also rose out of poverty and became a world class athlete. Like Milkha Sir, he joined the army and it was army training, coupled with his passion for running, that helped my father become the fastest man in Asia from 1956 to 1960.

My father was also disappointed at the Olympic Games when he finished fourth in both the 100m and 200m semifinals at the 1956 Melbourne Games (Milkha Singh was fourth in the 400-50 at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. m final).

In 2009 I spoke to Milkhaji for the first time. His secretary had called me about the rights to my father’s portrayal in the Biopic Bhaag Mikha Bhaag. He got to the game soon and when I told him he was a great athlete he said something I still remember. “Putt, tera bapu boht wadda athlete tha (son, your father was a great athlete). I became a Flying Sikh after defeating him. My fame is thanks to him. “

Only a man with a golden heart can say such a thing. He made a point of speaking to my mother. Before hanging up, he said to me, “Mothers are a form of God and we should all take care of them as best we can.”
My father was a man of few words. He barely talked about his defeat in the famous 200m race against Milkhaji in 1960 at an Indian-Pakistani athletics meeting in Lahore. (After this event, then Pak President General Ayub Khan went to Milkha Singh and called him the Flying Sikh.)

I heard a lot about my father’s career from his teammate Karamat Hussain and my uncle Abdul Malik, also an Olympian. In 1960 my father’s career was on the decline and yet he was still a master of the 100 and 200m runs. It is said that my father fell silent after this 200m run.

One day after this race, my father took part in the 4 × 100 m relay race. He and Milkhaji should run the final leg for their respective countries. The story goes that my father received the baton before Milkhaji, but as my uncle told me, he was waiting for Milkhaji to come closer. When he was next to him, he said: “Milkha Sahib, ab zor lagana (Milkha Sahib, give everything now)”.

The Pakistani team won and my father, like the former athletes, regained his fame. That was the kind of rivalry they had. My father never showed anger in the field. After the races, he always treated his opponents with respect.

My family will always owe Milkhaji for a grand gesture on his part. My father was a prisoner of war after the Bangladesh war and was imprisoned in Meerut. Milkhaji went to my father and told the prison officials to take special care of him.

When I asked him about this meeting, Milkhaji confirmed it and even invited me to visit India. Unfortunately, our wish to meet the legend went unfulfilled.
Milkhaji received the title “Flying Sikh” from General Ayub Khan, but not many know that my father received the title “Flying Bird of Asia” in Manila from then Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, who was the main guest during the Asian Games in 1954. This happened after my father won the 100m title while Nehru was watching.

The film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag put my father back in the spotlight. While the Pakistani government honored my father in every possible way, the younger generation did not know much about him. This film helped my father regain the lost fame.

People asked about his performance at the Asian Games, the 1956 Indo-Pak meeting, and the Melbourne Olympics. Some called my father “the Usain Bolt of the 50s”. It was good to see the younger generation hear about my father.
Earlier this month, Pakistan and our family lost my uncle Abdul Malik, a 1960 Olympian, and now the news of Milkhaji’s death is like another loss to our family and our country.

My mother Valayat Begum expresses her condolences to Milkha’s family and the people of India. Our family is with them.

(As Nitin Sharma was said)