One of independent India’s most loved sportspersons, Milkha Singh, breathed his last on Friday, 18 June, in Chandigarh. The legendary sprinter passed away due to COVID-related complications after a month-long battle.
He had lost his wife Nirmal Kaur, former national volleyball captain, to the same ailment on 13 June.
The Padma Shri awardee, who was nicknamed ‘The Flying Sikh’ for his accomplishments, and his wife are survived by his golfer son Jeev Milkha Singh and three daughters.
The former sprinter had tested negative earlier in the week and had been shifted out of the COVID-19 ICU before his condition took a turn for the worse.
If Milkha’s achievements on the track are well documented, the admiration and love between him and his wife was quite well known too. They got married on 5 May 1963.
“He was only attracted to me,” Nirmal Kaur had said about her husband in an interview, who could be seen blushing and smiling when the sound byte played out.
“Meet my sweetheart wife, who is my heartbeat,” he had said while introducing Nirmal Kaur to his mentor Dr Arthur W Howard, former coach of the Indian athletics team, at the Chandigarh Golf Club in 2007, according to Hindustan Times.
However, there was almost a slip between the cup and the lip, and urgent intervention was needed as the couple faced a hurdle.
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The first time Milkha and Nirmal met was in Sri Lanka, in 1955, when she was the captain of the Indian volleyball team.
While Milkha was competing in an athletics competition, Nirmal was involved in another volleyball competition. They would meet next in Patiala where Nirmal was a student at the College of Physical Education.
As the decade rolled over, in 1960, the two champion athletes would meet in the national capital after Kaur had joined as Deputy Physical Education (DPE) Instructor at Lady Irwin College, Delhi.
However, there was opposition from her father as the affluent Delhi family opposed an inter-caste marriage. But the then Punjab chief minister, Partap Singh Kairon, intervened and convinced the parents to allow the marriage to take place.
“The affluent Delhi family had heard about my courtship of Nimmi (Nirmal) and wrote furious letters to Kairon sahib. When I met Kairon sahib, he listened to me and said, ‘If you want to marry Nirmal, go ahead at once’,” Singh wrote in his memoir.
“By God’s grace, we have completed 55 years of marriage and every day is like Valentine’s Day for us,” Nirmal had told The Indian Express in 2019.
After the wedding, in 1963, they moved base to Chandigarh from Delhi and stayed active, working with sport till the 1980s before calling time on their careers.
Having lived there for more than a few decades, the evergreen couple was part of the city’s folklore and will definitely be missed.
(With inputs from Hindustan Times, The Indian Express)
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