Nirmal with husband and legendary sprinter Milkha Singh, who is also undergoing treatment for post-Covid complications, in Chandigarh. (HT file photo)
Nirmal with husband and legendary sprinter Milkha Singh, who is also undergoing treatment for post-Covid complications, in Chandigarh. (HT file photo)

Nirmal Milkha Singh, an unmatched administrator who transformed Chandigarh sports

During the 1985 ODI, Nirmal came up with the brilliant idea of wooden stands. That’s how even today one can see the dark green wooden stands in the Sector 16 stadium, blending beautifully with the environment
By BR Bajaj
PUBLISHED ON JUN 14, 2021 06:08 PM IST

Mrs Nirmal Milkha Singh, who passed away on Sunday after battling Covid-19, was the most dynamic sports administrator Chandigarh ever had. I can say that with authority as I was the finance secretary and sports secretary in Chandigarh Administration when she was posted as joint director, sports, in 1984. Memories came flooding back on hearing the sad news.

Nirmal, as we all knew her, was a sportsperson of national fame herself, but not many know that her knowledge, initiative and enthusiasm as a sports administrator were unmatched. The two years that saw a transformation of the Chandigarh sports department was much due to her personality and the new ideas that came to her naturally. After more than 35 years, I may not be able to recall all her contributions, but I do remember how the Sector 42 sports complex, Sector 7 sports stadium and many others, are the result of her initiatives.

We worked in a small group headed by K Banerjee, the then chief commissioner and administrator whose decision-making was sharp and quick. That being the easy task, the difficult part of implementation was left mostly to Nirmal and her team. I remember how we could all leave the details of organising events such as the first National Women’s Athletic Championship at the Sector 7 stadium to her and were pleasantly surprised with the Pinjore Flying Club plane dropping flowers at the inauguration, all due to her initiative.

Always part of the solution

Her contribution to build the sports infrastructure continued much after I left the Chandigarh Administration in 1986. I remember how she was always a part of the solution and came out with brilliant ideas.

In 1985, we were given an opportunity to host the first-ever international cricket match in Chandigarh. This was the One-Day match between England and India. We accepted the challenge but ran into problems when the requirement of constructing new stands with seating capacity for 25,000 in the Sector 16 stadium was not allowed as per the bylaws and master plan. Nirmal came out with brilliant idea of wooden stands. That’s how even today one can see the dark green wooden stands in the stadium, blending beautifully with the environment.

The first One-Day International was watched by a capacity crowd of 25,000, and I remember David Fowler, the then England team captain telling me that he found the stadium to be one of the most picturesque.

Endearing nature, always cheerful

Nirmal was not only an able administrator, but also a fine human being. My wife, Rupan Deol Bajaj, herself an administrator, admired her initiative. Now for a woman’s take. Rupan admired her flawless complexion, and the way she carried herself in a sari with her well-earned India blazer. Nirmal’s cream salad, the recipe of which she so generously shared with my wife (with her secret ingredient of coconut) became a signature dish at our home.

Till a few months ago, when we used to run into each other at the Chandigarh Golf Club course, Nirmal would fondly recollect the days she spent working in Chandigarh administration.

We are going to remember Mrs Nirmal Milkha Singh for her endearing nature, always cheerful and happy. May God bless her soul. brbajaj@gmail.com

The writer is a retired Punjab-cadre IAS officer

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