Imagine the amount of positive energy that must have generated when the two Sikh supermen, Fauja Singh and Milkha Singh, met. This rare occurrence — of the two legends sharing the same sofa and exchanging with each other their highs and lows — can be best described as electrifying, inspirational and historic.
Yes, yours truly was one of the lucky few to witness the two icons hug and exchange Faujaisms and Milkhaisms. The meeting, held at Milkha Singh’s Chandigarh residence, was an outcome of Fauja Singh’s desire to meet Milkha Singh, since the Flying Sikh had called upon him during his film promotion tour to London.
“I don’t consider myself old at all. My heart is still very young,” says the hundred-plus-year-old Fauja setting the agenda of the rendezvous.
“Ditto,” replies Milkha Singh. “I also don’t consider myself old at all,” he says with equal vigour, not letting Fauja get away with the fact that only his dil was jawaan. The opening lines of the conversation not only make me chuckle at the competitive spirit of the two ‘young old’ men, but also wonder, who was younger at heart? Now the question — in which direction was this conversation headed? Goris or something else, since all are quite aware about the sprinter’s fetish for the gori, the biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag exposing it all.
"Story eh bandi hai kithon banda utheya, tey kithey pahunch gaya," Fauja tells Milkha, who immediately seizes the opportunity to tell his story. "Yes, this Milkha story is very important for the younger generation. The young lot before the movie had no clue of the struggles of Milkha Singh," he says. Fortunately, Milkha Singh comes out of his narcissism rather quickly and flings at Fauja an equally gracious punch. "If I was the government I would have conferred the Bharat Ratna on you," he says. That’s a different matter that Fauja has no idea what a Bharat Ratna means, though he wouldn’t mind the recognition at all.
The focus of the conversation soon shifts to the mayhem of 1947, where Fauja asks Milkha about the kataleaam in what is now Pakistan. The Muslims had threatened us to convert to Islam or face the consequences. But, my father and my family stuck to their roots as a consequence of which they were all butchered," says Milkha. "Sad," says Fauja and recalls his own experience of the partition. "In Indian Punjab, some of the largest population of Muslims was in Hoshiarpur district where Sikhs and Hindus butchered many Muslims. I remember seeing one road, whose top layer had become black with Muslim blood. It is not the loss of land but the loss of human lives that makes partition sad."
A terrifying silence engulfs the room but Fauja shoos it away with his inability to stay quiet. “I became popular because I had the advantage of a very powerful media and internet. However, you ran in a time when access to information was limited. Your achievement needs to be saluted,” he says, folding his hands in humility yet again.
The conversation is brought to a temporary halt as Milkha Singh has to go to another room for a quick TV interview. And the moment Milkha walks away, Fauja, the dandy that he is, quickly turns his head towards me and asks why I didn’t instruct him to carry his suit and tie from his village? Oh this competitive nature of the two babas! Fauja, I know is feeling left out since Milkha was dressed to the nines in a suit, tie and his signature maroon coloured turban, while he was just in his kurta-pyjama.
“And why does Milkha Singh dye his beard black,” he asks me, while running his hand through his grey beard. “Pata nahi. Chup baba,” I say, as I hear footsteps approaching the drawing room.
“I still walk five to seven miles a day,” says Fauja, explaining his fitness mantra to the Flying Sikh. “This keeps me going. I will die the day I sit down.”
“That’s the only way to do it. I also at times take off for a sprint, especially when I’m feeling low. Otherwise, I play regular golf,” replies Milkha.
Soon, it’s time for us to bid good bye and I ask Milkha Singh if we would be seeing him in the evening at the HT Youth Forum function (August 9).
“No”, he replies firmly. “Since I will end up getting all the attention, the politicians out there will feel neglected,” he says.
“Oh teri di,” I say to myself and pose the same question to Fauja Singh, who I knew had no idea where he was being taken. “Aho, mela dekhan gay,” replies Fauja.
The two great Singhs of Punjab, Fauja and Milkha, are two sides of the same coin.