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The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Milkha Singh, 2014 May 27.
Oral history with Milkha Singh, 2014 May 27.
Singh, Milkha and Joshi, Prakhar
Author (no Collectors):
Singh, Milkha, Joshi, Prakhar, Joshi, Prakhar, and Joshi, Prakhar
Milkha Singh, renowned athlete, shares his story with The Archive, also captured in the film “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.” Milkha Singh was born in Gobindpura, Kot Addu, in Muzzafargarh district. Kot Addu lies near Multan, and Mr. Singh describes it as a sandy place, with only horses for transportation. Mr. Singh’s forefathers were originally Rajputs from Rajasthan, and were ironsmiths.Mr. Singh’s father was a small time farmer and had a small land holding. Until grade four, he studied in a mosque. Mr. Singh describes the 1930s, when he used to walk barefoot to his school with his friend. To build up his stamina, he used to run for 10 miles. They spoke Multani language there. Mr. Singh was very fond of wrestling. Inter-community relations were very strong and everyone lived happily.Mr. Milkha Singh had many siblings. One of Mr. Singh’s brothers was in the army and, around the time of Partition, had warned them that Kot Addu was in danger. He was in grade eight during the time of Partition. One day, a large frenzied mob arrived. Families came together to protect one another. Local leader went to negotiate terms but was shot. Before dawn the next morning, the mob entered the city. There was heavy gunfire and many did not survive. Young Mr. Singh was trying to hide. He remembers seeing his father fight bravely, and finally struck with a sword. When he fell, his father cried, “Bhaag Milkha, bhaag,” pleading him to run away to safety. Buildings were burned and many women took their own lives as to avoid abduction. At the end of the night, Mr. Singh realized that he had lost his entire family, except for his elder sister Hoondi, and the brother in army. Hoondi had managed to escape, with a newborn baby.Mr. Singh recalls his run from Gobindpura to Kot Addu railway station. His father’s last words ran through his head. He boarded the first train to Multan, which was smeared with blood. He hid under seat for the whole journey.At Multan, Mr. Singh stayed in the army barracks, where his brother’s wife lived. Later, they took an eight hour long journey in military trucks and crossed the Hussainiwala-Ferozepur border. His elder brother stayed behind in Pakistan, since he was on duty and awaiting orders.Ferozepur was full of refugees. After some days, Mr. Singh found an abandoned building. To earn for food, Mr. Singh began looking for work. He earned through odd small time jobs by polishing shoes at the barracks in lieu of leftover food. One day, the river flooded and Ferozepur was inundated. Mr. Singh managed to escape the flood and headed for Delhi.There were thousands of refugees on the Old Delhi railway station. The platforms were covered in refuse. Cholera was spreading. Those times of abject poverty made Mr. Singh very resourceful. Mr. Singh scouted around for petty jobs. He was arrested for traveling without a railway ticket. His sister, whom he had found at the Purana Quila refugee camp, sold off her jewelry for his bail.Mr. Singh started working as a cleaner at a shop for a monthly salary of ten rupees. He joined school in grade nine but did not continue because of the changes in the mode of education. The army was recruiting and had set up an office in Old Delhi. Mr. Singh applied and was rejected three times. Finally, he got selected in 1952.His penchant towards running was accidental. In 1953, while he was in the barracks, it was announced that a six mile race would be held and the top ten recruits would be given an extra glass of milk everyday. It was this extra glass that motivated him into winning his first race. He soon got selected for cross country races and was trained by his instructor who was a former runner. This started his career as an athlete.After his victory at the Commonwealth games of 1958, his popularity catapulted to higher levels and he was invited to various countries. There was an Indo-Pak Sports Meet which he was reluctant to attend, due to his memories of Partition. But he was convinced to participate. Returning to his native place was a tumultuous experience. Mr. Singh visited his village and met his childhood friend. It was at this race that he was given the title of “The Flying Sikh.” Mr. Singh went onto participate in 80 international races, and won 77 of them.Mr. Singh had met his wife in Ceylon and they got married in 1962. The couple now lives in Chandigarh. Mr. Milkha Singh shares he has cried three times in his life: when he saw his family killed in Kot Addu, when he did not win the gold medal at the Rome Olympics, and when he saw the Bollywood movie that has been made on his life. He wants to visit Kot Addu once again, and see his village. He is very hopeful of the future. His message to the world is to develop a strong will power, and fighting spirit.This interview was conducted by The 1947 Partition Archive staff Prakhar Joshi.
History and History
Physical Description:
2 video files
Publication Info:
Chandīgarh (India)
Chandīgarh (India), May 27, 2014
Filmed interviews