After watching the movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, I thought there wouldn’t be much to read or know about Milkha Singh. I was totally wrong on that notion as there was so much more than what meets the eye to the living legend and ace athlete. The autobiography, The Race of My Life, which is co-authored by Milkha’s daughter Sonia Sanwalka, is an inspiring story of the athlete who missed the Olympics gold medal by a whisker but shattered all other records, be it at the Commonwealth Games or the Indo-Pak sports meet in Pakistan where he was hailed as the ‘Flying Sikh’ by Pakistan’s army general Ayub Khan.
The book delves into the deep and intricate details of Milkha’s traumatic post-partition past, his struggle for survival and how his elder brother’s support and influence got him in the army.
Singh writes about his ecstatic joy on being selected to represent India at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Despite losing out in the event with disappointing results, he met top sportsmen including America’s top athlete Charles Jenkins, who later gave him valuable tips and pointers on running. Between 1956 and 1957, Milkha’s sole mission in life was to excel and bring laurels for himself and his country by running.
In his book he says, ‘The track, to me, was like an open book, in which I could read the meaning and purpose of life. I revered it like I would the sanctum sanctorum in a temple, where the deity resided and before whom I would humbly prostrate myself as a devotee. To keep myself steadfast to my goal, I renounced all pleasures and distractions, to keep myself fit and healthy, and dedicated my life to the ground where I could practice and run. Running had thus become my God, my religion and my beloved’.
The autobiography also describes how Singh was at first reluctant to leave the army and take up an administrative job but later gave in, thinking he could provide a platform for aspiring athletes in the country to perform at the highest level through his new role.
Milkha hung up his boots after participating in Tokyo Olympics 1964 and announced an award of two lakh rupees to any athlete who breaks his record of 45.6 seconds in the Olympics. But this award has had no takers yet. Singh’s first encounter with love has its own share of ups and downs. Marrying Nimmi, his wife, was no cake walk. Singh belonged to a Sikh family whereas Nimmi had a staunch Hindu background.
After working for 30 years in the sports department, Milkha initiated several projects to promote and improve quality of sports in the state. He always believed that strict training programme under the guidance of professional and competent coaches was the key to success along with will power and determination. At the end of his book, he pours his heart out on how his initiatives faded away post 1991 and demands for better infrastructure in the country fell into deaf ears.
The book concludes with Singh’s hope that his autobiography would inspire youths to take up sports as a viable career option. I would like to end the review in Milkha’s words, ‘The lines on our palms do not decide our future, kambakht, we, too, have a say in it’.
A good read. Go for it!