Indian athletics may not be on the global sporting map just yet, but there are rare moments in the country's track and field history nevertheless that are forever etched in time. None better than Milkha Singh falling painfully short of a medal at the 400m final of the 1960 Rome Olympics by a gut-wrenching fraction of a second.
Milkha or 'Flying Sikh' as he later got christened, is known to have given away all his medals to government museums. However, there's one possession that he never wanted to part with were those Adidas shoes with which he missed the 400m Olympic bronze at Rome, days after setting a 45.8-second world record in the preliminaries of the same event in France.
"I wouldn't part with it even if someone gave me Rs 10,000 crore," Milkha told Bollywood actor Rahul Bose, who called the legend at his residence in Chandigarh in connection with the second edition of Equation, the actor's sports memorabilia auction to be held on February 11 in Mumbai.
Bose was introduced to Milkha by India's 1975 hockey World Cup-winning captain Ajit Pal Singh. "When I first spoke to Milkha sir over the phone, he said he was a bit unwell, so I let him recover before going across to Chandigarh. Later, when we met, he showed no signs of any illness. He was fine and we chatted enthusiastically. He spoke of how his parents were killed post-partition, leaving him in India to fend for himself.
He told me how he walked a good 20km to and from school each day, bare-footed across scorching earth and having to cross two streams each way. He would cool his feet by rubbing them over the comparatively cooler grass patches. He joined the army and the rest, as they say, is history," Bose told MiD DAY.
As it turned out, the rest of their interaction was historic for Bose too. "I asked Milkha sir if he could give me a picture of him in that Rome race to put up at the auction, but he didn't have one. Then he suddenly got up, walked to his room and returned with a pair of shoes.
I was astonished to learn that it was the very same pair he ran the Rome race with. 'They are priceless to me. I wouldn't part with them even for Rs 10,000 crore,' he said.Â And even as I sat there still in awe of those lace-less, old boots in my hand, Milkha sir said, 'tumne mera dil jeet liya hai aaj. Tum yeh jootey le loh (you have won my heart over. Take these shoes)'."
Moved by the effort
Bose believed the ace middle-distance runner was moved by the sheer nature of his charity and the purpose of the auction. "Proceeds from last year's inaugural auction were used to set up operations in Kashmir where we, as the first non-profit organisation, worked towards adopting and creating educational opportunities for 12 children from the land," said Bose, who also has a football autographed by Argentina ace Lionel Messi and an autographed vest from Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel besides other memorabilia in his collection this time round. Milkha's contribution though, is most special!