I knew the legendary Milkha Singh personally because of my father, Major Dhyan Chand. Every time we met, he would enquire about his health. We had a practice camp in Chandigarh before the 1975 World Cup, which we won. Being an official of the Punjab Sports Department, Milkha sir would often visit us. He was a man of few words, but always ensured we got the best of facilities. In return, his only expectation was we should win the trophy.
One day he invited a few senior players for lunch. I was one of them. Given his keen eye on dining table etiquettes, we all had to use forks and knives. Most of us were not habituated to this, especially me. I somehow managed, without getting noticed. He also accompanied us to a couple of felicitation functions after we won the World Cup. If I remember correctly, he was with the team in Mumbai when we were feted. Age difference and his seniority meant we interacted formally on most occasions. Most of our conversations centred on my father, who used to address him as 'Milkhe'.
I lost my eldest brother Brijmohan Singh a couple of months ago. The demise of Milkha sir saddens me again. He and Balbir Singh Senior were the pillars of Indian sports after Independence. Unfortunately, we lost both in a short span of time.
It’s time we gave them the recognition they deserve. We should name national sports awards after them. These legends inspired generations of athletes in the country and we must pay them back. Tributes pour in after legends die, but we should honour them during their lifetime. I am not complaining, but this will improve the sports culture in our country. If athletes start getting recognition, more will start pursuing sports as a career.
It was in Hyderabad where I met him the last time. I was there as a member of an ad-hoc committee formed after the dissolution of Indian Hockey Federation. He was in the lounge of a hotel. I spotted him and went up to greet him. He was gracious as always, enquiring about me and my family. I can only say he will keep inspiring Indian athletes for many years to come.
(The writer is a former India hockey captain and World Cup winner)