In continuation to my previous post on Milkha Singh and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag [BMB], here is another small piece in connection with an article doing the rounds about how Milkha Singh never held the 400m World title [link], as portrayed in BMB. [Again, ‘Bhaag’ is Hindi for ‘run’]
In humble defense, all I’d like to say without getting into specifics, is that maybe he never broke a world record, or maybe he broke some record where there were three runners ahead of him who also broke the same record, which of course still doesn’t give him claim to something he didn’t win. Maybe the record was at an altitude, or the 400 m then wasn’t exactly 400 m (it was sometimes measured it in yards). And, Milkha Singh himself has said that only about 80% of the movie is factual. And given his humble background and sincerity, I doubt he would have allowed or given wrong facts. So, hoping that now we’re all agreed on that, allow me a few minutes to share my view of the movie, about why I feel Milkha Singh is so important, and about an important underlying concept.
For a long time now, I have believed that we Indians are quite a pretentious lot.
Take Ratan Tata for example; an outstanding businessman and gentleman who is admired by most, if not all of us. But, the hurdles we as a country have placed before him don’t quite add up. Be it with setting up of an auto plant for the Nano in W. Bengal, or problems with their repeated desire to re-enter the airline business. Can you think of any similar hurdles faced by corrupt businessmen? I can’t. And yet, other influential groups even pull-off successful IPOs with no actual business to show.
In entrepreneur circles, some often repeated (and increasingly boring) questions that arise are ‘when will India give the likes of a Google, Apple or Facebook to the world’ or ‘will India be able to build one of the greatest businesses of the world’? The problem is that these questions, just like the pretentious outlook, are superficial.
Indians have helped build some of the greatest global companies. Some stats for the uninitiated: 12% scientists and 38% doctors in the US are Indians. 36% of NASA employees, 34% at Microsoft, 28% at IBM, 17% at Intel and 13% at Xerox are Indians. And these stats are from way back in 2008.
So, again, it isn’t that Indians are not capable. But perhaps many Indians in India seem to have a crab-like mentality rather than one of encouragement and support. And reality continues to be quite distorted for a lot of us.
We spend considerable time trying to lay a claim to fame in every world event imaginable. Don’t believe me, try these:
- Britain’s royal baby will have a karmic connection with India, an astro-numerologist predicts
- There was an Indian connection in the delivery of Britain’s new prince – One of the doctors present at the birth of Prince William and wife Kate’s first child was Sunit Godambe, who grew up in Mumbai (India)
- Last financial year, Red Hat became the first Linux vendor to breach the $1-billion revenue mark, recording $1.3 billion. This growth story has a strong India connect
- Scientists testing saliva samples from Prince William’s relatives discovered a direct link between the future king and a woman who was part-Indian
- Nobel laureate, Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer has an India connection – he came to Bhopal immediately after the gas tragedy to express solidarity with the victims, noted Malayalam poet K Satchidanandan
- God particle: ‘India is like a historic father of the project’
- There’s an Indian connection in 4 films with 36 Oscar nominations
We claim from a distance. And yet, we often fail to see or acknowledge legends who walking amongst us. We give our lives, money and time for cricket, and yet curse and scorn when the hockey team doesn’t qualify for an event. We seem to have taken ‘freedom of speech’ the wrong way around. It does not mean we sit pretty on our couches and ridicule and brush aside the important, and hang out our drooling tongues for an international spotlight. It is about knowing what is right, what is important, what is fair, and what is inconsequential.
BMB is not about a claimed shot at breaking a world record. It is about how a ‘nobody’ with an unimaginably horrific childhood overcomes, pursues and persists to win and make India a little bit more well-known, the world over. It is a tale of inspiration, introspection and encouragement.
It is ironic, that a Pakistani general conferred the title of ‘The Flying Sikh’ to Milkha Singh soon after a race in which he defeated Pakistan’s own Asia champion; yet here we, not so proud but quite cynical and underplaying. We are arguing over facts in a movie, albeit important ones. But in the process, we are losing sight of greater lessons that can be learnt from a glimpse into his life.
So, instead of simply laying claim to events, people or successes, however remote, let us change. Let us create, let us work together in such a manner, that when we have something wonderful and new to offer, the world will take notice and itself shout out about the Indian source or contribution.