Milkha Singh’s struggle: Delhi’s platform and the way is nowhere
Han athlete Milkha Singh came to India after Partition in extremely dire circumstances. Somehow, when he reached Delhi by train, he had neither money nor did he know anyone here.
In his biography, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, he has expressed the struggle of those days in touching words. Remembering him, we are giving here a part of his biography:
Milkha Singh’s struggle:
Firozpur had become a bottomless sea of refugees who were desperately searching for their familiar faces husband, wife, children or relatives.
We were all on the same boat, the hunt for survival or the search for shelter. After wandering for a few days, I reached a dilapidated house that had been abandoned by a Muslim family.
Although we now had a roof over our heads, finding enough food for the two of us was still an impossible task for us; But the paucity of funds in these circumstances had enabled me to take measures to meet my needs.
I used to go to the army barracks again and again.
There I used to polish shoes or do small household chores for the soldiers, in exchange for which they would give me leftover or stale lentils and roti, which I would take home and share with the victory.
There was no contact with our brother Makhan, who was still in Pakistan with his regiment. But we didn’t have time to worry about that. We had other problems.
Towards the end of August, the Sutlej river, which passed through Firozpur, was flooded with a huge surge and the city was washed away in devastating floods.
Jeet (Makkhan’s wife and sister-in-law of Milkha Singh’s sister Ishar) and I saved our lives by climbing onto the roof of a submerged house; But whatever little things we had got washed away with the water.
By then I had suffered a lot in Firozpur and was desperate to get out and move to Delhi. Had heard there that it is easy to find work there.
Clinging to each other in a chock-full of vehicles, we passed through the floodwaters and headed towards the railway station.
Once again the vast human ocean was all around us. There was chaos at the station due to the crowd of people moving here and there because they were directionless. My priority was to reach Delhi, But the train was so crowded that it was impossible to get a seat to sit in it. Fortunately, Jeet managed to climb into the women’s reserve compartment. But I could only find a place on the terrace. Being on the roof of the train compartment, I could see the large caravan of people, men, women and children.
Some of them were moving on foot, some by bullock cart, cycle or any other means towards India or Pakistan. It was a heart-wrenching scene.
The mass exodus of people who had lost their relatives’ homes and families was one of the greatest tragedies in history.
Once we reached the Old Delhi railway station, we were like thousands of refugees standing on the platform with no idea about ourselves, where to go, what to do.
We had neither money nor did we know anyone there, so I joined a group of some boys to find work. But it was soon learned that in those days of instability, people were very careful when hiring refugees.
Eventually, I got a job cleaning in a shop at Ajmeri Gate, where I used to get a salary of ten rupees.
Jeet and I spent a few days filled with chaos at the railway station, where we mingled with other homeless people. We were always scared about what would happen to us next, where we would go.
I still vividly remember how desperate people were in those days and the starvation was so severe that people would rush to grab the free food distributed by the charitable trust.
During that time I came to know that my sister Ishar, her husband and family have survived that demolition and live in Shahdara. When we arrived at his home, the family reunion was tearful and touching.
Although my happiness was only for a few days. I saw my sister being treated badly in that house. My poor sister used to work in that house as a maid without pay.
As the days went by, I soon realized that the family did not like my stay there at all. Jeet’s family would taunt me and make fun of me saying that I am worthless and a person who is of no use, who can just sit idle all day and eat their grains.
I had reached a stage when I was given only one meal a day. At that time I would miss my mother very much how she would feed her husband and children and large family with whatever little things were available in the house.
Ishtar would secretly give me the bread.
At the same time, we had heard that Makhan and his army had returned to India. Even now I hoped that once again I would be free from all worries, fly kites running behind the train or become a free bird laughing and joking with my friends….