Cover Story -Rajesh Yagnik
Milkha Singh’s name is Shirmore among the legendary players in the world of Indian sports. Especially because there are very few athletes who have achieved success from India in the sport of athletics. Milkha Singh was awarded the title of ‘Flying Sikh’ by General Ayub Khan of Pakistan. But there was also someone who beat an athlete like Milkha Singh to win a gold medal. Alas, that name has gone into obscurity. Today a film is also made on Milkha, but no one knows the talented player who rivaled her. That person left this world living in the midst of hardships and deprivations.
We are talking about Makhan Singh, the only player to beat Milkha Singh in Indian national competitions. Like Milkhani, Makhan Singh also belonged to Punjab. Makhan Singh from Hoshiarpur, Punjab, joined the Indian Army and was fond of running.
Born in 1937, very little is known about Makhan Singh’s childhood. But like Sikh children at that time, he too had to join the army and serve the country. His passion for running led him to participate in competitions on the national and international stage. Makhan did not disappoint the country and the medal
Give it to Milkha
The happy result of enlisting in the army was that Makhan Singh had the opportunity to make the necessary preparations. And it also got good results. Makhan Singh won his first bronze medal in the 400 meters at the National Games in Cuttack in 1959. He then continued his streak, winning silver and gold in Madras in 1960 and silver in Trivandrum in 1963. But the real feat was done by Makhan Singh in 1962, a feat that no one could do until then.
In 1962 Calcutta National Games won gold medal by defeating Milkha Singh in 400 meters race! After this competition, not only the country, the whole world looked at Makhan Singh.
It was no mean feat to beat Milkha Singh, who shocked the country and the world by finishing fourth in the 1960 Rome Olympics with a resounding fight, at home two years later. He won four gold medals in this competition.
He represented India at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, where he won gold in the 4:400m relay and silver in the 400m. His run for the country continued. Between 1959 and 1964, Makhan Singh won 16 medals, including 12 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze medal.
Had to become a truck driver to make ends meet
In 1964, the Government of India awarded Makhan Singh with the Arjuna Award, the country’s highest honor for sports. Makhan Singh served in the Indian Army till 1972 and retired with the rank of Subedar. Karam’s difficulty started from here.
Makhan Singh in obscurity after retirement
It was time to disappear. Being a sportsman who waved India’s flag in the world, a soldier who served in the country’s army, it was difficult for him to support his family.
Makhan started driving a truck. But bad luck was not ready to give up its pursuit. Makhan Singh was injured in a road accident and sustained injuries on both his legs. He didn’t have enough money to get proper treatment and the Arjuna Award winner, who made the country famous at the national and international level, got no help from the government. As a result one of his legs had to be amputated due to gangrene. His legs used to run like wheels, he had trouble even walking.
His two sons, Inderpal Singh (14 years) and Gurvinder Singh (22 years), also succumbed to the illness and both died due to lack of proper medical attention.
Then he started a stationery shop in Chhabewal, three kilometers away from the village. Despite not having one leg, he commuted daily by bicycle. But one of his legs could not bear the weight of his life. To help Makhan, Milkha Singh helped him get a kerosene oil depot. But Makhan could not earn enough from it to lead a respectable life.
Makhan Singh, who did not give up in track and field, finally died in the year 2002 after losing the battle of life. His wife and third son survived him. His son barely ekes out a living doing menial jobs that don’t even fetch five figures.
Almost fifty years after receiving the Arjuna Award in 1964, it was his wife’s turn to sell the award. She said, ‘My husband is gone. What if something happens to me? Selling this award will give my family something to eat.’ With some bitterness, Makhan Singh’s wife said, ‘People made Milkha Singh a hero, but the one who defeated Milkha was forgotten.’
When asked about his training partner and competitor, Milkha Singh commented:
If there was anyone I feared on the track, it was Makhan. He was a great athlete, which brought out the best in me. I would rate him even higher than Abdul Khaliq of Pakistan.
We lived and practiced together for years. I don’t think we have seen a better competition in the 400m event in India since then.
At that time, and perhaps even today, the plight of veterans and sportsmen has been indifferent to the plight of babus and leaders.
An economic system must be created so that the soldiers and sportsmen who bring respect and honor to the country can live with respect and dignity in their past lives. Only then can we attract the younger generation to pursue a career in sports.