Deepali Shukla
THE INCREDIBLE LIFE OF MILKHA SINGH: THE RUNNER WHO COULD FLY by By Swati Sengupta. Illustrations by Devashish Verma Talking Cub, An Imprint of Speaking Tiger Books, 2022, 120 pp., INR 250.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

When the list of books for review for TBR 2023 was shared, the title of this book attracted me, as this is a biography and I love reading them! Secondly, there are many books written on the life of Milkha Singh and I was curious to see how one written for children would present the life of this iconic athlete.
The story begins in Govindpura village, where Milkha spent his childhood with his family. A lively description of wheat fields, dirt roads, and flying kites is given in the first chapter describing young Milkha’s activities. Milkha’s loneliness at the time of Partition, relationship dilemmas, and acute worry about the safety of loved ones have been handled very sensitively. Swati has written in simple language making it easy for readers to understand. Information boxes help explain special contexts and concepts such as the Partition of India, National Games, Commonwealth Games, etc.
The book brings out many events from Milkha’s life. One incident describes stealing rations from the railway station upon arrival in India. It compels the reader to think about the difficulties faced by the runner in his early life and empathize with the circumstances shaping the personality. The events from Milkha’s life draw the reader’s attention to the restrictions placed on children by elders. These incidents bring out behind-the-scenes truths about the lives of public figures and show us that famous and iconic people too face their challenges. Inflection points in the life of Milkha Singh like a conversation with Brig. Vora after induction in the army, being mentored by his coach, and competing against the Pakistani runner Abdul Khalik, help to understand what shaped the man.
The book is written with children 10 years of age and older in mind. The author has focused on Milkha’s determination and his journey as an athlete and a star runner. The fond hope is that this may generate an interest in the readers about track and field sports.
The font size used in the book is age-appropriate to make reading more appealing. The text is illustrated in places depicting the backdrop and context of the story. The book includes a timeline of Milkha Singh’s life marking salient milestones, many of which have been elaborated upon in chapters. The author ends with a note with her thoughts on Milkha’s life.