New Delhi, Jun 19 (PTI) Milkha Singh and his wife Nirmal Kaur were once stuck at the New Delhi's international airport and the episode turned into a life lesson for airlines staff who were touched by the humility of one of India's biggest sports icon.
It was October of 2015 and the legendary athlete was travelling along with his wife, who was on a wheelchair, to their home in Chandigarh, an airport staffer recalled.
'They were flying with a private airline that offered free travel to frequent flyers. However, there was an issue due to some extra luggage that they were carrying and were required to make a payment for it,' the staffer told PTI requesting anonymity.
'There was some confusion initially but Milkha ji appeared cool-headed about it and cooperated with the airport staff for making whatever payment was needed. However, the EDC (electronic data capture) machine was not working and Milkha ji and his wife had to wait for a good 30 minutes,' the official recalled.
The 28-year-old, whose father was also a state-level sportsman, said he had only heard about the legendary exploits of the 'Flying Sikh' in track and field games and the laurels he brought India but that day the humility of 'a man of Milkha ji's stature' served as a lesson for many present there. 'Some of the younger staff of the airlines got nervous, while those experienced tried their best to keep him engaged in a conversation to bide time. But he was really calm even though there was no fault on Milkha ji or of his wife,' the staffer said.
The staffer remembers Singh telling an airline personnel 'koi tension nahi hai, lakhon miles (frequent flyer benefits) pade hain beta'.
'I have worked at multiple airports, including international terminals, and I have seen celebrities throw tantrums at the drop of the hat. A little trouble and anybody worth their salt start pressuring airport or airline staff, and cry foul for even a little delay,' he told PTI.
During the whole episode, Singh also obliged several passengers, airline and airport officials, who requested him for pictures and selfies.
'I remember a team of young sportsmen from Haryana was also travelling from the airport that day. Seeing Milkha ji there, they all jumped at the opportunity, touched his feet and got pictures clicked with him,' the official said, adding he also took a selfie with the legendary sprinter.
After the elderly couple moved past the security check area for boarding the plane, the airline staffers heaved a sigh of relief and were struck by his humility, he said.
Singh, 91, died on late Friday night at Chandigarh's PGIMER hospital after battling COVID-19 for a month. He passed away less than a week after he lost his wife Nirmal Kaur, a former national volleyball captain, to the same ailment.
Singh is survived by his son Jeev Milkha Singh, who is a golfer, and three daughters. PTI KIS AAR AAR