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Thursday, August 05, 2021

Nirmal Milkha Singh dies of Covid: ‘She has been the biggest trophy for me’

Nirmal Kaur was 85 and is survived by her husband Milkha Singh, one son and three daughters.

Written by Nitin Sharma | Chandigarh |
Updated: June 14, 2021 10:22:56 am
Nirmal kaur Milkha singhNirmal Kaur with husband Milkha Singh. (Express/File)

“Nimmi is a devoted wife and mother. I am still amazed by how efficiently she manages her personal and professional life without letting either of them suffer,” writes Milkha Singh about his wife Nirmal Kaur in the chapter The jewels in my crown in his autobiography The Race of My Life released in 2013. On Sunday, Nirmal Milkha Singh, former Indian volleyball captain, breathed her last after suffering from Covid-19 and battling the virus for more than 19 days at a Mohali hospital.

Nirmal, who was married to Milkha Singh on May 5, 1963, and had been strength of the Milkha family since the last six decades, suffered from Covid pneumonia and was on High Flow Nasal Cannula (HFNC) and Non Invasive Ventilation (NIV) support since June 4.

The 85-year-old, who is survived by husband Milkha Singh apart from three daughters Dr Mona Singh, Aleeza Grover, Sonia Sanwalka and son Jeev Milkha Singh, was cremated on Sunday evening as per the statement issued by Milkha Singh family. Milkha Singh, who is still in ICU of PGIMER, could not attend the cremation.

Nirmal Milkha Singh (second from right) with the Punjab volleyball team in 1950’s. (Spl Arrangement)

Volleyball player and marriage with Singh after Kairon’s intervention

Daughter of Mehar Chand Saini and coming from Punjabi khatri family based in Pathankot, Nirmal was the Punjab volleyball captain before becoming the Indian volleyball captain. The couple had first met in Sri Lanka in 1956, where Milkha had gone to compete in an athletics competition and Nirmal was captaining the Indian women’s volleyball team.

A student of College of Physical Education, Patiala, Nirmal would meet Singh again as a student. In 1960, Kaur had joined as Deputy Physical Education (DPE) Instructor at Lady Irwin College, Delhi, and it was this time in Delhi that Milkha Singh would meet Nirmal Kaur and it was also a time when a affluent Delhi family wanted to get their daughter married to Milkha before the then Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon intervened and asked Milkha to marry Nirmal.

“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 writes in his memoir.

But with Nirmal’s father Mehar Chand Saini opposing the inter-caste marriage, Kairon once again intervened and convinced him to agree to the marriage. The couple finally got married on May 5, 1963 at Pathankot with Sardar Umrao Singh, the then Punjab sports minister, being a member of the baraat.

“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,” Nirmal had told The Indian Express in 2019.

Nirmal Milkha Singh on the day of her wedding. (Special Arrangement)

Support pillar for family and society

While Nirmal Milkha Singh too worked as director of sports for women in the Punjab sports department, where Milkha Singh became the director of sports and education, the former Indian volleyball captain also took care of the Singh’s household which included their daughter Dr Mona Singh, Aleeza Grover, Sonia Sanwalka and son Jeev Milkha Singh.

She also worked as joint director sports, Chandigarh, and director sports, Chandigarh, after her retirement from Punjab. While Nirmal was operated on for her knees prior to the release of the movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in 2013, the octogenarian was a regular at the Chandigarh Golf Course with Milkha Singh to watch their son play with the recent being the Jeev Invitational Challenge.

Nirmal was also associated with the affairs of the Milkha Singh Charitable Trust and would often help needy players and children. In 2014, Nirmal along with her daughter Mona had joined the Aam Aadmi Party before she quit the party in recent years. “To see my husband Milkha Singh receive the Padma Shri, followed by Jeev too getting the prestigious award has been the biggest joy for us apart from watching our daughters do well and carry the Milkha family tradition,” Nirmal had told The Indian Express earlier.

Milkha Singh and Nirmal Milkha Singh with son Jeev Milkha Singh and daughters Mona, Aleeza and Sonia during a trip to Kashmir. (Special Arrangement)

Life with Milkha Singh

While the couple relocated from Delhi to Chandigarh after their marriage in 1963, the couple worked in the Punjab sports department till the 1980s before retiring. While the couple celebrated each of Jeev’s wins, they were also present when their grandson Harjai Milkha Singh had won a junior golf tournament at Panchkula in 2018.

“Since the day we got married, Sardar ji has always opened the door of the car for me whenever we go and this has remained the same for every single day of our married life. The same is true for our children and grandchildren. If we talk of the biggest gift given by him to me, it is the lines which he wrote in his autobiography: ‘I have many trophies but the biggest trophy for me has been my wife Nirmal Milkha Singh,” Nirmal had told The Indian Express in 2019.

Milkha Singh and wife Nirmal Kaur with then Punjab CM Pratap Singh Kairon. (Special Arrangement)

‘Iconic volleyball player, she brought several laurels’

Apart from various sportspersons and officials, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Punjab Sports Minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi condoled the sad demise of Nirmal Milkha Singh.

“I am saddened to learn about the death of one of the iconic volleyball players who brought several laurels for the country thus making every Punjabi proud. The remarkable services rendered by Nirmal Milkha Singh as director of sports for women, Punjab, for promotion of sports would be ever remembered by one and all,” said a statement issued by Amarinder Singh.

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