Monday, July 23, 2007

Seeking out a Sikh with a tale to tell

(Courtesy of Sikh Sangat News)

IT'S a fair bet that none of the Tour players who felt frustrated and sorry for themselves at The K Club yesterday have been forced to run for their life from a massacre.

Such was the fate of a gracious and dignified elderly gentleman named Milkha Singh who was in the gallery yesterday watching his son, Jeev Milkha Singh, playing alongside Pádraig Harrington and Soren Hansen.

Milkha stood out from the crowd as he was wearing the turban of his Sikh faith, but the golf fans following the group had no idea they were in the company of a remarkable man.

He was just a teenager living in a remote village of what became Pakistan following partition in post-colonial India when the madness came to his home.

Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were stirred to bloody strife and Milkha's parents and other family members were slaughtered in a pogrom.

"That night I lost my my parents, three of my brothers, my sisters, all of them were killed.

"I managed to run away in the darkness when the killing went on. Almost 4,000 men, women and children were killed in my area. It was madness at that time," he said.

He found himself a refugee in India but from tragedy Milkha made his life a great success when he was introduced to running after joining the army.

There was no coaching, he ran barefoot, and knew nothing of Olympic Games, Asian Games or anything else about the sport, but Milkha Singh went on to become a hero in his country as an Olympian.

He ran in the Olympic Games at Melbourne, Rome, and Tokyo, and earned the nickname of "The Flying Sikh" for his athletic exploits.

Sadly, although he set a World record in the 440-metre preliminaries in Rome, he was to lose out on an Olympic medal by a fraction of a second, as the first four finished virtually in a dead heat and were separated only on a photo-finish.

Milkha, somewhat reluctantly, took up golf when his running days were over and though he got to single figures and still plays five days a week, at one stage he decreed that his son Jeev should concentrate on his studies and become an engineer or a doctor instead of a career in sport.

But now, at almost 80 years of age, sprightly Milkha delights in the success of Jeev and last year, took his son to, of all places, the Morton Stadium in Santry for an emotional return after 48 years.

Milkha had won Gold in the Commonwealth Games 440 yards at Cardiff in 1958 and was brought to Dublin by the late, great Billy Morton for the international athletics meeting which opened the new cinder track at Santry.

'I knelt down and touched the track. It had changed but the stadium was not so different'It proved to be an epic evening in front of a huge crowd. The feature race was the mile, in which Herb Elliott broke the world record by 2.7 seconds and the first five, including our own Melbourne '56 gold medal winner Ronnie Delany, all beat four minutes.

Milkha Singh won the 440 yards race on that memorable night and still treasures his medal.

The track is a modern synthetic surface now, justifying in one respect Billy Morton's proud boast to the press after the '58 event that "Gentlemen, grass is on the way out!"

Said Milkha: "I knelt down and touched the track. It had changed but the stadium was not so different. It was a very emotional moment. I told my son 'I ran here in 1958'.

"That brought special memories back to me."

Milkha and his wife Nirmal delight in the success of their son and the family has gained an unique honour: back in '58 Milkha was awarded the equivalent of a knighthood in India for his sporting exploits and son Jeev has been given the same honour, the "Padma Shri" after his four international wins last year, including the Volvo Masters.

No comments: