Milkha and me ..Bhagggg ! / By Rashmi Talwar / Rising Kashmir

Milkha and me ..Bhagggg !

By Rashmi Talwar

 

Farhan Aktar as Milkha Singh- The Flying Sikh

Farhan Aktar as Milkha Singh- The Flying Sikh

Why didn’t Punjab villages produce more athletes like Milkha- the flying one? Villagers were well-built, toughened, possessed a soaring spirit, street-smart, breathing the purest village air, fresh food, clearest water, early risers, considered OK to be ‘nalayak’, could take slaps-kicks in their stride, insults, abuses were a part of their lingo and could hardly stifle or cramp their Ishtyle. Because, winning or losing is about mental conditioning.

I cried buckets and trucks, while watching the ordeal of Milkha Singh, and his partitioned past. I laughed and cried in turns, over his antics and emotive moments in this terrific movie ‘Bhag Milkha Bhag’, just as most watchers did, in the country and abroad.

Flowing with my tears were memories – “I too was gifted just like Milkha!”. But I dare not compare myself with the Flying Sikh. Milkha had the grit and grind, he had the ‘pluck’ and I proved to be only a lame-duck. The Ready! Get-Set! Go!-Clap however has never left me. Milkha’s inspiring role played by Farhan Akhtar, once again spilled out my past and unfolded it most painfully.

Rising Kashmir: Milkha and me ..Bhaggg !

Rising Kashmir: Milkha and me ..Bhaggg !

I was uniquely gifted with strong, swift legs, clocking 10-seconds or less in 100mts, great timing in 200mts and a flying jump in the long-jump rivalries. Could climb Kashmir’s mountain races and come tops and nicknamed ‘Pahari Bakri’.  I even had a Milkha-esque PT master- Mr Gill-a retired armyman who laid great store for my talent. Many a ‘daaga’ or drumstick thrashed my legs, arms and back for that perfection Mr Gill demanded. Thus, on Republic and Independence Day parades at Gandhi ground, Amritsar, I was either the Lead Salute or flag-bearer of Sacred heart School, having earned the title of Best athlete for five consecutive years. There too our parade was adjudged the best for many years due to Mr Gill’s efforts.

My first brush with success came  when I was declared as Junior Best Athlete. I am remembered till this date, more for the ‘behooshiepisode’ in the newly introduced 400mts run then, when I fatigued-out just like the cramped Milkha in his early athletic years, but short-distances, I could sprint at high speed.

As athlete, I beat all seniors, but was a back-bencher in academics, always getting day-long punishments followed by home-made reprimands. Finally, school took grave notice of my ‘winnings’ and the British Rowllat Act look-alike –supposedly against revolutionary activities – mine, being too many winnings,  was imposed. In other words- my winnings were viewed as acts to demoralize others. Hence participation for only three events and relay race was permitted, thus successfully curbing and arresting any ‘excess’ wins.

Humility was considered the greatest virtue then and instilling this was a righteous deed. Lest they turned proud, girls in sports were singled out for target practice. Hence, I got the singular honor of being caned, slapped, punished and humiliated the most in all my classes. ‘Afterall, the mind and spirit should be humbled and nothing should become a hurdle in this lesson most noble’, was the refrain of our teachers and was strictly implemented.

Just as Milkha ran for eggs and milk, I ran for a treat of tandoori chicken, whenever I was declared best.  My father clocked my timings and even ordered for me an indigenous pair of spikes from a local cobbler, as they were rarely found in our parts or too expensive. The poorly created pair jumbled my steps and so I returned to my bare-footed sprints, just like the Milkha of the early days. I ran bare-foot even in college, where I won college colors for Athletics, Tennis, Arts-Dramatics and Academics as well.

In school, after clinching the Best Athlete title for the third consecutive year, Mr Gill approached the real-life Milkha Singh, whom he knew personally. He went all the way to Chandigarh to the Great Milkha Ji, for a personalized approval for me to run in the district athletic championships, as convent schools those days were unrecognized and therefore banned from sending participants in government organized events. Mr Gill told me -‘Milkha Singh gladly signed the letter’,  thus opening this grand opportunity for me.

Devoid of any training or preparation, bare-footed, a rag-towel grandly tossed on the shoulder and a silly pajama as a track-pant, with an odd Iodex or Relaxyl ointment tube to soothe cramps, as my companions, I ran. I clocked second and won a silver medal in districts, surpassing an athlete who had won many titles at state level.

Mr Gill had counseled me ‘bhagg bas bhagg Rashmi, torr dena sab ko’ ecstatic and holding up that signed letter by Milkha Singh. The whole ground was abuzz with ‘convent di ik kuri ne heroine nu ‘cut’ kar dita. Koi coaching vi nahi lai’ (A convent girl had ‘cut’ Heroine (a nick name for the good-looking athlete), without any coaching).  All coaches had surrounded Mr Gill and his smiles and eyes had lit up like never before. Perhaps I was his little star.

Although selected for state championship at Kapurthala, the barbs and sarcasm continued ‘khelon ne tujhe kahi nahi le jana, parahi kar, agar parahi mei fail toh no khel’ samajh gayi’.(Sports are not going to take you anywhere, study, if you fail there would be no play, have you understood) was the refrain from all sides. Today I realize, it wasn’t their fault, the environment was such and my father a winner in Inter-varsity swimming and a masters in economics in those times, had given me much liberty,  rarely allowed to girls in convents from respectable families, in those times, and tradition was that academics was supreme. I was torn between these pressures.

In contrast girls from villages were more liberated to go for tournaments. They were street smart, bullies, crass, uncouth and everything that was needed and absent in our ‘O so-lady-like’ environment and unrealistic expectations of academic excellence . They bullied, threw egg and groundnut shells on my carefully laid our bedding, copulated amongst themselves in rajais (quilts) at night, by self-declared bets looted any money I had and broke my spirit in everyway. I cried and missed Mr Gill like anything. And thought ‘He would have surely hit them with his ‘daaga’, and given them punishments to turn into kokers or cocks, for bad behavior!’

Being with them in Kapurthala was a nightmare. I was forced to leave my gift of sprint behind and compromised to become a Tennis player. Although, I won the national bronze medal in Tennis but I never had the mind or sharpness or reflexes needed in Tennis, I only had miracle legs that took me to fetch each ball and thus win.

Running against a hostile environment is an achiever’s ultimate hurdle, and for me too it was the vital one, the one I failed to cross. It is all in the mind, had I stood my ground in athletics then, I could have shone like Milkha Singh one day.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR

URL: http://www.risingkashmir.in/news/milkha-and-me-bhagggg-53157.aspx

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65 responses to this post.

  1. Rush its awesomely written and I agree with each word we just missed being a MIlkha Singh because we lacked the “pluck”…ur a gem …i just love ur work…

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    • Hey Minni You are my darling sis … love ur work too ..hugs and kisses

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      • I’m reminded of the little girl with feet that could have set the earth on fire if only .. ” Devoid of any training or preparation, bare-footed, a rag-towel grandly tossed on the shoulder and a silly pajama as a track-pant, with an odd Iodex or Relaxyl ointment tube to soothe cramps, as my companions, I ran.”

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  2. Posted by jaiti sharma on August 14, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    Great Article Didi and touching story. Very well written. I didn’t know this side you at all.

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  3. Posted by Suneeta Seth on August 14, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    I knew of your tennis but this is amazing. The piece is very touching and well written

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  4. Posted by Munish Inder Singh on August 14, 2013 at 7:30 PM

    spl thanks to Drug Regime…!

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  5. Posted by Aruna Minhas on August 14, 2013 at 7:22 PM

    It’s the society’s loss Rashmi, at least some of us were able to see you in “action” on numerous sports events..in fact that was the first thing that came to my mind when we initially connected after decades via batchmates. Sometimes putting it on paper helps to let it go..you did even better…you crafted the memory beautifully and got it published for posterity.. kudos!

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    • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 7:25 PM

      Aruna Minhas — all borders were my pals cos most of them were good in sports so kind of had a silent value for each other. Lots of love to u

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      • Posted by Aruna Minhas on August 14, 2013 at 7:56 PM

        Now you are ranking up old mems- yes being boarders we had access to facilitéis and equipment 24/7- so no wonder we were sports kids- back at ya~

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  6. Posted by Krishma Arora on August 14, 2013 at 7:18 PM

    Brilliantly written Rashmi!!

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  7. Posted by Tarunpreet Kaur on August 14, 2013 at 7:16 PM

    Very well written … reminds me how the school rules were. I agree humility is not meant to be the topmost policy of life. One can’t so humbly strive towards one’s goals. It needs much more.
    Btw, what year did u pass out?

    S.H.H.S passout 1994,
    Tarun

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    • Posted by Tarunpreet Kaur on August 14, 2013 at 7:17 PM

      Btw, I was the other category. Hiding from Gill sir during the Games period But good to know he cared so much for the best sportswomen at school

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      • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 7:20 PM

        Tarunpreet Kaur –I passed out in 1978-79. M happy to learn that Mr Gill was there during your times too

        — Humility is a gift that should be inculcated in all, but the way you go about teaching it is not correct.
        By all means humility means a lot to me now.
        But back then it was a cruel way to instill that virtue. Hence the process became mere humiliation with no results on humility.

        This was because the object being humiliated(to be taught humility) had to fight a ferocious pack who would tease and humiliate further , so where did we learn the lesson of humility .

        There is a big changeover required in India to produce fabulous sports persons , sadly it may take eons to inculcate the patterns adopted by foreign nations boasting of a formidable medal tally in sports.
        Most of all with the parent’s mind set needs to change, but that can only happen with lucrative offers and facilities provided by the state, besides an insurance of a career to bring in a sustainable income . Parents need to be fully convinced of the country’s gesture of genuineness . Settting aside red tapism and corruption to give a flip to sports that would be the first starting point.

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  8. Posted by Manpreet Rajpal on August 14, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    Of course dear I remember our sports days nd mr gill very well

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  9. Posted by Kulbir Sandhu on August 14, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    Not just bits and pieces of Mr Gill and athletics Of course!. I remember a lot of it. Those were fine times!

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  10. Posted by Malhotra Puneet Punnu on August 14, 2013 at 7:09 PM

    U tooo
    Daud lete the ???????

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  11. Posted by Anamika Mujoo Girottee on August 14, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    You will excel in the field you had to choose ultimately. A wonderful read!!

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  12. Posted by Aasha Khosa on August 14, 2013 at 7:02 PM

    Lovely writeup.

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  13. Posted by Pamposh Dhar on August 14, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    Very moving story, Rashmi.

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  14. Posted by Vijay Koul on August 14, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    ‘bhagg bas bhagg Rashmi, torr dena sab ko’
    in journalism now

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  15. Posted by Vijay Koul on August 14, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    ‘bhagg bas bhagg Rashmi, torr dena sab ko’
    in journalism

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  16. Posted by Bansi Raina on August 14, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    There is so much to say…but I am speechless.i could feel the pain.I agree with Meenakshi Khosla above….your play ground is now paper and u run with pen in your hand.You r stronger than you ever were. U made my eyes moist.God Bless.

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    • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:51 PM

      Bansi Raina ——– Moments such as these never leave you till your end. Thanks that I was able to write about it and ease the weight by sharing it with you all

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  17. Posted by Bikram Singh on August 14, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    Gandhi Ground is reminiscent of sports, republic day parades and rallies to any Amritsari.

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    • Posted by Bikram Singh on August 14, 2013 at 5:27 PM

      Rashmi mam ji…Brilliantly described the formidable rise of Self ,and of a Amritsari young athlete(You)).Gill ji equally well spotted and continued to stimulate the robust talent.And individual effort and talent flourishes like anyting and amidst any ‘hostile’ environment when the immediate environment( referring family) is freely supportive.

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      • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:35 PM

        Bikram Singh — going by your profile picture I cannot imagine a boy so young as in the pic can comment the way you have …thanks dearie … it touched me

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  18. Posted by Autar Mota on August 14, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    Very well written .i can say superfine sentiments captured .

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    • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:32 PM

      Autar Mota — I wish you could pinpoint one episode in the piece that u liked the most ..thanks so much for ur comment

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      • Posted by Autar Mota on August 14, 2013 at 5:37 PM

        The para i liked the most is …………..Humility was considered the greatest virtue then and instilling this was a righteous deed. Lest they turned proud, girls in sports were singled out for target practice. Hence, I got the singular honor of being caned, slapped, punished and humiliated the most in all my classes. ‘Afterall, the mind and spirit should be humbled and nothing should become a hurdle in this lesson most noble’, was the refrain of our teachers and was strictly implemented.

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  19. Posted by Sanjay Raina on August 14, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    Sanjay Raina I shared it on my wall. Well, you captured almost everyone’s sentiment in your well written piece. Thank you!

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    • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:36 PM

      Sanjay Raina— really ! …If it touched you, Thank u dear v much

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    • Posted by Sanjay Raina on August 14, 2013 at 5:38 PM

      It touched me, and touched every bit of my soul. What else can define the dismal state of 1.2 billion Indians that cannot produce champion athletes.

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      • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:39 PM

        Sanjay Raina— still times have not changed that much …a sportsperson is still considered a ‘nalayak’ and I am afraid in many more years this stigma to sports will stay

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        • Posted by Sanjay Raina on August 14, 2013 at 5:40 PM

          People blame lack of facilities to overcome what you faced. Facilities are not there because sports are not given a priority. But then the contradiction is very visible in our educational system. Education is given importance but when one looks at the infrastructure to support it, it speaks volumes of our psyche.

          I understand your pain, Rashmi.

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          • Posted by Sanjay Raina on August 14, 2013 at 5:41 PM

            Indulgence in sports is for ‘velas’. I remember that growing up partly in Srinagar, Shimla and Ludhiana.

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            • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:41 PM

              Yes truely a ‘vela’

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              • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:42 PM

                Why can’t India replicate patterns from developed countries to create marvels not only in sports, but in hundreds of spheres considering we do not have a dearth of talent, only dearth of facilities and red tapism to deal with

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                • Posted by Sanjay Raina on August 14, 2013 at 5:43 PM

                  Honestly, Indians are shortsighted and therefore lack commitment. Without accepting that our innate nature of ‘chalta hai’ is at play, we carry on patting our boney shoulders.

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  20. Posted by Meenakshi Khosla on August 14, 2013 at 5:16 PM

    Dear Rashmi , its sentiments uproar , I truly understand the ache , the drive and the upheaval .. This movie has brought out those hidden tears locked and kept hidden only to be opened at time we are alone or with self, then a deep breath and sigh and just go about with the days duties. You have put it in prose… We all have some times in our lives divided to choose between the two,and more often than not chose the off tread path, ..like me .. Always loved Military Sciences , look now When my first love became English I don’t know.. It always reminds me of poem,THE ROAD NOT TAKEN- ROBERT FROST.
    Two roads diverged in the woods and I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference ”
    I’ll re quote.. I took the one off traveled one .. All said and done.. You run here too.. Very fast , leaving all behind… The only thing is playground is paper and you run with PEN in your hand ! Remember , pen is mightier than sword ! God bless !

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    • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:31 PM

      Meenakshi Khosla — I am speechless ! and am in one of those moments when one chokes and breaks all over again .. I dont know how u understand me so well eventhough we’v never met, but ur assessment amazes me and always strikes the bullseye …!

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  21. Posted by Kaul Ravinder on August 14, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    It’s a wonderful piece. Great writing. The loss of sports is gain of journalism..

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    • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      Kaul Ravinder — Koi lavz nahi hain kehne ko.. bas acha laga that u liked it … I know it could have been better framed and there was lots more to it, but —“Unkey zikr se , Unke zikr se , Shaayad zindagi mein kuch khas rishtey ..rishtey nahi rehtey”

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  22. Posted by Aalok Aima on August 14, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    What a wonderful reminiscence ‘Pahari Bakri’ Ji. So rich with detail….. mazaa aagaya …… yes a bit sad but so very stoically narrated

    It would actually make a wonderful story line for a film.

    – ‘bhagg bas bhagg Rashmi, torr dena sab ko’
    – ‘convent di ik kuri ne heroine nu ‘cut’ kar dita. Koi coaching vi nahi lai’
    AND THEN – ‘khelon ne tujhe kahi nahi le jana, parahi kar, agar parahi mei fail toh no khel’ samajh gayi’

    aur phir …. National level tennis player (I did not know this)

    [[[ Although, I won the national bronze medal in Tennis but I never had the mind or sharpness or reflexes needed in Tennis, I only had miracle legs that took me to fetch each ball and thus win.
    Running against a hostile environment is an achiever’s ultimate hurdle, and for me too it was the vital one, the one I failed to cross. It is all in the mind, had I stood my ground in athletics then, I could have shone like Milkha Singh one day.]]]

    aur abb …. this writer at the desk and her memories

    likhh Rashmi likhh

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    • Posted by Rashmi Talwar on August 14, 2013 at 5:29 PM

      Thank u Aalok Aima– U picked the most poignant pieces of the article . Everytime this memory piece brings tears .. it was indeed painful to a small little pressured child, who had to cope with the difficult one (studies) in order to get a reluctant approval for the passion of running .. bas yehi thi kahani .. Thanks upparwala for taking this out of my system ..

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  23. Very moving article, Rashmi.

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  24. Posted by Anonymous on August 13, 2013 at 11:05 PM

    …and Manpreet Kandhari too. She could run too…bare-footed just like Rashmi. I can still picture these two sprinting feverishly and out of breath, pig tails fying high, in their bright green sports skirts. Great article, Rashmi!

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  25. Posted by Harry Rakhraj on August 13, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    It’s the first time for me: re-reading an article again, then again .. and yet again. My heart crying for the little girl who had stars in her eyes and dreams in her heart. Oh! the agony and the ecstasy of that star athlete. The gifted runner, her dream crushed by an unthinking, unfeeling society. The sheer agony of it all …

    And there’s a new thrust, a new spark to the writing. A result surely of the passion this broken dream still evokes in that little girl now grown up!

    A remarkable experience narrated with exquisite feeling. A feeling conveyed painfully to the heart. Frankly it brings a tear to my old eyes. What more could one say?! What more except : Bravo Rashmi!

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    • I have no words to answer your comment Harry Rakhraj ji …Your comment in itself completes my story.
      There is one thing I failed to mention in this story was the Govt dole out of Rs 5.50 paise per day meals during state level championships …which consisted of two slices of bread and a cup of tea in the morning, 1/2 samosa and some grated radish (mooli) and one slice of bread for lunch and two chapatis, dal and little sabzi for dinner.

      Imagine how Indian policies worked for creating Olympians …!

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  26. Posted by KulbirSandhu on August 13, 2013 at 8:45 PM

    Yes, I remember you could run , but so could I and Rinky Gill.
    I am glad you found an outlet in writing !

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