I performed Milkha Singh—the Indian sporting legend who died on June 18 of COVID-19 problems at age 91—within the 2013 biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. (The title interprets to Run Milkha Run.) Singh was a baby of partition, who got here from poverty, however he had loads of religion in himself and the idea that if you happen to work onerous, you’ll be remembered. That, to me, is his legacy.
Again in my faculty days, I bear in mind how my bodily training trainer would typically level to Singh for example once we would slack off on our coaching. Many people have been instructed that rising up: if you wish to achieve success in sports activities, it’s important to prepare like this man.
And the primary time we met was at a working observe in Mumbai the place I used to be coaching for the movie. Singh had frolicked serving within the military earlier than his athletic profession; I anticipated him to be concise and terse in his demeanor. However he shortly put me comfortable. He arrived wearing a tracksuit, and instructed me: “Let’s not stand right here and speak, let’s jog.” You possibly can’t be stiff whenever you’re working; it’s important to calm down. There was an electrical power; as soon as younger athletes on the sphere realized he was of their presence, all of them rushed to the touch his toes as an indication of respect.
Singh—or the “Flying Sikh,” as he was broadly identified and beloved— got here into the highlight at a time when India was nonetheless creating an identification for itself as a nation. He grew to become the primary Indian athlete to win a gold medal on the Commonwealth Video games in 1958. He represented India in observe and area in three Olympics, and narrowly missed out on a bronze medal on the 1960 Video games in Rome. His efficiency set an Indian nationwide document that lasted for almost 40 years, though his incapability to safe an Olympic medal weighed closely on him even many years later.
As a baby, Singh witnessed the deaths of his dad and mom and siblings throughout India’s violent partition in 1947. It might have been completely comprehensible for Singh to really feel anger, betrayal and resentment in direction of Pakistan over the killing of his household. It could actually take greater than a lifetime to recover from that form of trauma, however he in some way selected to make peace with it; regardless of every little thing, he selected love as a guiding drive. And he continued to symbolize therapeutic and forgiveness at a time when India and Pakistan nonetheless battle with points associated to caste, faith and race. When Singh talked about partition extra not too long ago he would emphasize that individuals aren’t inherently unhealthy, circumstances are. He would later say, “every time I ran, India and Pakistan each ran with me.”
I bear in mind precisely what Singh instructed me once I requested what he needed me to convey in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: “I would like everybody to know that Milkha Singh labored more durable than everyone else and that’s why he grew to become Milkha Singh.” That grew to become my driving drive for doing the movie—to work more durable than I’ve ever labored earlier than to attempt to embody his spirit. His dream was at all times for an Indian to win an Olympic medal in observe and area. Hopefully his legacy will encourage others to make that dream a actuality.
—As instructed to Sanya Mansoor
A model of this story seems within the July 05, 2021 concern of TIME.