As the nation mourns his tragic demise at 91, The Flying Sikh is being laid to rest forever, just five days after his beloved wife Nirmal Kaur passed away from COVID-19 complications. When Milkha Singh bid adieu to his wife of 59 years on June 13, 2021, he was himself battling for life in the ICU at PGIMER in Chandigarh. On the night of June 18, 2021, the legendary athlete succumbed to COVID-19 after a month of testing positive.
Milkha Singh’s name needs no introduction to an Indian. As one of the best athletes in the nation’s history, he earned accolades and honors worldwide. From cinching gold medals for India at Asian Games and Commonwealth Games to serving in the Indian Army at his prime, the track and field sprinter was always held in high respect by all. His son Jeev Milkha Singh is also a noted golfer who, incidentally, was the first Indian professional player to join the European tour.
Deeply saddened to know about the passing away of Nirmal Milkha Singh Ji due to Post-Covid illness. She had served as the captain of India’s Volleyball team and was a remarkable sportsperson. My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends. @JeevMilkhaSingh pic.twitter.com/VLB2D3yT4a
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) June 13, 2021
A supportive wife, a doting mother – Nirmal Kaur had always been lauded for the success and achievements of her husband first, and then his son. However, behind Milkha Singh’s spectacular career, his wife’s short yet noteworthy stint as a star athlete is often overlooked. It is not known to many that Nirmal Kaur was herself an Indian professional volleyball player. In fact, she was even the captain of the Indian women’s national volleyball team at one point, leading the country to many victories.
Born on October 10, 1938 in Sheikhupura (now part of Pakistan), Nirmal showed prowess in the volleyball field from a young age. She was the captain of the Punjab women’s team – before going on to become the Indian captain. Academically, she held a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Punjab University.
In 1956, Nirmal met Milkha Singh for the first time at a sports event in Sri Lanka, where both of them were participating in their respective events. However, love blossomed between the pair when their paths crossed once again in 1960. At that time, Nirmal Kaur was appointed the Deputy Physical Education Instructor at Lady Irwin College, Delhi. Meanwhile, an influential family was keen on getting their daughter married to Milkha Singh while he was courting Nirmal. More resistance came from Nirmal Kaur’s father because of caste differences. The situation reached such a juncture that eventually the then Punjab Chief Minister Pratap Singh Kairon had to intervene to ensure Milkha’s marriage with Nirmal. They tied the knot on May 5, 1963.
In his autobiography ‘The Race of My Life’, Milkha Singh recalls, “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.”
He met Nirmal Kaur, a former captain of the Indian women's volleyball team in Ceylon in 1955; they married in 1962 and had three daughters and a son, the golfer Jeev Milkha Singh. In 1999, they adopted the seven-year-old son of Havildar Bikram Singh, who had died in the war pic.twitter.com/hNpB0thv5u
— Rakesh🇮🇳 (@Rakesh1752) June 19, 2021
Nirmal Kaur had opened up about her relationship with Milkha Singh during an interview with The Indian Express in 2019. “Not many know that I come from a Hindu family. I idolised Milkha Singh ji and it was he who convinced my father Mehar Chand Saini to marry me off to him. My father was an educated man and he wanted me to marry a truthful and simple man, which Milkha Singh ji was. By God’s grace we have completed 55 years of marriage and every day is like Valentine’s Day for us,” she had shared at the time.
Nirmal Kaur went on to become the Director of Women’s Sports in the Punjab Sports Department. Later in life, she became actively involved in politics and charity. While she left Aam Admi Party after a while, she continued her charitable endeavours till the end.
“History resulted in partition of India and Pakistan but I am #MilkhaSingh, whose childhood was spent in Pakistan and youth was spent in India. Wherever I ran, India and Pakistan both ran with me.
Rip 'The Flying Sikh' Hope you and Nirmal Kaur ji rest in eternal peace together. pic.twitter.com/WWJuW3XkRZ
— Jasleen Royal (@jasleenroyal) June 19, 2021
The couple led a beautiful life and raised their three child amid love, care and deep respect for each other. In the end, the soulmates reunited in death, as the nation grieved.