The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 16, 2000
Great Minds

Milkha Singh
(c. 1931)
M. N. Roy
(March 21, 1887 —January 25, 1954)
Mahesh Yogi
(January 12, 1917)

Milkha Singh
(c. 1931)

IN the blazing summer heat, two little boys are on their way to school. They are barefooted as their parents, being poor, can't buy shoes for them. Since the ground is too hot to walk, the boys are forced to run, and take shelter under the shade of the nearest tree. After a while, they run again till they find another tree. The cycle repeats until they reach their school at Kot Addu, another village about 10 km away from their own. The two friends hardly realise that they effectively run about 20 km every day, besides wading through two streams. It is perhaps this harsh routine that will make one of the boys run for his country in the Olympics a couple of decades on.

Milkha SinghHis immense popularity notwithstanding, very few know Milkha Singh the man. This tall and slim athlete grew up in a poor household in Gobindpura, Muzzaffargarh district, now in Pakistan. With the coming of independence, he lost his parents and three brothers in the genocide that followed Partition. He, however, managed to escape death by lying among the dead. Bearing immense hardship he finally reached New Delhi.

Having lost everything in life, he decided to join the Army, but was turned down because the authorities felt that he was too thin. However, when he tried again, he was selected in 1952.

As a jawan in Electrical Mechanical Engineering, Secunderabad, he reached the pinnacle of glory in athletics through sheer dedication and hard work. "What I am today," admits Milkha Singh, "is all thanks to the Army. It is the Army that discovered me, groomed me, and trained me. Before that I had not even heard of the Olympics or Asian Games. Havaldar Gurdev Singh was the one who groomed me, and trained me. That was all the training that I had. I set myself punishing schedules. I used to train so hard that several times I had to be carried home on a stretcher."

Milkha Singh shot into limelight when he took part in a race in 1954 in Patiala. The Maharajah of Patiala was on the look out for young sportspersons for the Melbourne Olympics. He was impressed with Milkha Singh's running action, and, thanks to him, he was sent for a coaching camp in Bangalore.

For a person who has been acknowledged as one of the top six athletes in the world after his success at the Tokyo Asian Games and in the Commonwealth Games at Cardiff, Milkha Singh is best remembered for his feat in the 1960 Rome Olympics, where he missed the bronze in a photo-finish with a timing of 45.6 seconds. In all, he ran about 80 international races and won 77. He won the coveted Helm's Award in 1959, and is the only Asian to be selected for participation in the first Earth Run sponsored by UNICEF. Incidentally, the title 'flying Sikh' was given to him by President Ayub Khan of Pakistan.

It was Nehru and Kairon who persuaded the Army to relieve him so that he could takeover as Deputy Director of Sports, Punjab. And in this capacity he introduced sports wings in many schools, and also trained a number of promising athletes. "But my influence on the young athletes ended at school level," he laments, "because soon they would get picked up by various organisations and private companies to perform for them. I no longer had any control over them."

In order to train young world-class athletes, Milkha Singh offered his services to the Athletics Federation of India. "All I asked for was eight years' time without any interference. But they did not show any interest. I wanted to start a sports academy here, but again all my plans were thwarted."

Unmindful of bureaucratic apathy, the tireless runner carries on with his work. He is married to the former volleyball champion, Nirmala. His son is a promising golfer, and one of his three daughters had done a doctorate in sports. Although he is well-placed in life, he hasn't forgotten people who have been less fortunate. Last year, he adopted the seven-year-old son of Havaldar Vikram Singh who sacrificed his life while trying to recapture Tiger Hill.Top


M. N. Roy
(March 21, 1887 —January 25, 1954)

M. N. ROY'S life is the stuff thriller novels are made of. Fired by patriotic zeal, he joined the revolutionary movement at the tender age of 14. During World War I, he tried to get arms for Indian revolutionaries from Indonesia, China, and Japan. Dodging the British, Chinese and Japanese police with a forged French passport in the name of Father Martin, he reached the USA. Once there, he began to call himself Manabendra Nath Roy or M. N. Roy for short. He assumed so many more identities and aliases, in his long adventurous life, that people forgot his real name: Narendra Nath Bhattacharya.

M. N. RoyInspired by the daredevilry of firebrand revolutionary V. D. Savarkar, he himself led a life as exciting as that of his childhood idol. Quite early in life, he read Bankim Chandra's Anand Math. The book had a profound impact on the young man. Roy studied for a while at National College, when Sri Aurobindo was Principal. He soon joined the Yugantar group - an organisation that believed in violent revolution. As he indulged in more and more revolutionary activities, he began to figure prominently in police records. When the situation became an impossible one for him, he was forced to flee the country.

Having reached the USA, he started studying socialism, and was back to his revolutionary ways. When the USA joined World War I, there were orders to have him arrested. Fearless as ever, he jumped the bail and fled to the neutral Mexico, along with his American wife Evelyn Trent, under an assumed name of Manuel Gomes. Over there he organised a Socialist party, which later became the first Communist Party outside the Soviet Union. He became so popular there that the President of Mexico took him as his non-official adviser.

When Lenin heard of the exploits of Roy, he invited him to Russia. Travelling once again under an assumed name, he reached Russia for the second International Congress of Communists. Lenin was actually expecting a wizened old man from the east, but he was surprised to see a young and robust six-footer instead. Lenin was sufficiently impressed by his intellectual depth and called him the symbol of revolution in the East. Not the man to be overawed by big personalities, M. N. Roy was bold enough to speak out his mind whenever he disagreed with Lenin. He was asked to write for Pravda, the Party organ; was elected member of the Presidium; and was sent to Tashkent to lead the revolution. In fact there was also a proposal to send him as Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan so that he could guide the revolution in India. After Lenin's death, differences cropped up between him and the Communist leadership in Russia, and he left for China in 1926 to lend his strength to the revolution there.

He returned to India in 1930, and was arrested and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. At the end of his prison term, he joined the Indian National Congress, but at the outbreak of World War II, left the Congress and formed the Radical Democratic Party in 1940. By that time, his political philosophy had begun to show signs of change. He began to drift away from Marxism, and drew closer towards New Humanism.

Beginning his eventful life as as a nationalist revolutionary, Roy worked in at least twelve different countries spread over three continents. He ultimately was recognised as one of the leading philosophers of the modern Indian Renaissance. It must not be forgotten that for someone who held such powerful influence of young intellectuals of his time, Roy did not have the advantage of going to any big university. "And yet what marks out Roy as unique among the dramatis personae of the history of the revolution," remarks G. D. Parekh, "in our time is a rare combination of the love of freedom, unimpeachable integrity, a sense of loyalty, the courage of conviction, a passionate interest in ideas and their human implications, an unqualified involvement in the struggle for freedom together with complete detachment from the game of power politics."Top


Mahesh Yogi
(January 12, 1917)

"MY system of meditation is a golden link to connect and harmonise materialism and spirituality. It is a direct process to integrate man's life on earth." Thus spake Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who took spiritualism to the masses and packaged TM or transcendental meditation in a more easy-to-understand form.

Mahesh YogiThe third of four children, Mahesh Prasad Varma, now revered by his followers as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was born into a rather well-off family. The exact date of his birth is not known. January 12, 1917 is the one given by his uncle Raj Varma, other dates are October 18, 1911; January 12, 1918; and October 18, 1918.

He showed a natural disposition towards the sciences, and as he grew up he graduated from Allahabad University. "I was completely dissatisfied with what I studied in college. Because I knew - this can't be the whole knowledge. I was searching for something complete whereby I could understand everything." For a while he worked at a local factory, but his restless spirit bade him to become a disciple to the Shankaracharaya. And with this he renounced the world, took the vows of celibacy, and began to call himself Bal Brahmachari Mahesh.

The Maharishi travelled all over India and met many great men He told his listeners that life was short, and so there was no point in being miserable. "Then why waste time in helplessness and suffer any agony in life? Why suffer when you can enjoy? Why be miserable when you can be happy? Now, let the days of misery and peacelessness be over and let their operation become tales of the past. Allow not the past history of agony to be continued in the present. Be happy and gay."

He held, in the late fifties, a Seminar of Spiritual Luminaries in Mylapore with a view to finding out a practical formula of spiritual regeneration of the world.

The Maharishi's goal now was to make the whole world spiritual, and to do that he would have to spread his message quickly and effectively, but he realised that the rate at which he was going, it would take at least 200 years to achieve that goal. "Then I thought: I must go to the most advanced country, because I thought — the country is most advanced because the people of that country would try something new very readily." Once his message was accepted there, it would be easy enough to spread it to the rest of the world.

His book Science of Being and Art of Living was published in 1963. It was the summation of both the practical wisdom of the ancient Indian texts and the latest scientific knowledge of the West.

(To be concluded)
Text and illustrations by Kuldip Dhiman