Tall, wiry with wrinkles lining his face, 86-year-old Milkha Singh is still the intense man who speaks his mind. His sense of humour has the sharp edge as he talks about the women in his life.
In Hyderabad for a run, the adulation and attention that follows him, seems to have gone a notch up after the release of the biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.
Did the character played by Sonam Kapoor really exist?
"Definitely, she existed. Without a woman a man is never complete. Big wars were fought over women. Kingdoms were destroyed. Kings became losers. Such is the power of a special woman. Such a woman did come in my life. Those times were different."
There was another Australian woman shown in the movie, and she too was an important part of his life. He reminisces about her, "Do you know who she was? She was the fastest sprinter of her country Betty Cuthbert and won three gold medals."
How they met is interesting. Betty had never seen sardars with turbans, and once at a meet, while Milkha was sitting she point ed to his turban and asked him what it was.
"For her, I unwrapped the patka (turban). She insisted that I wrap the turban around her head, and there I was, wrapping a blue turban around the head of this pretty Aussie woman. Later, she died of cancer, but the turban that I gave her is still kept safely in her house by her two sons. They showed it to me when I visited Australia the last time," Milkha informs.
Secunderabad Cantonment has a special place in Milkha's life. To improve his strength, he would race in the nights against speeding trains which left officers wondering about the identity of the runner.
Milkha Singh smiles, "Once, I was penalised for running during nights. It was here in Secunderabad that my guru Hawaldar Gurudev Singh asked me to race against meter-gauge trains in the night. Main bhi chhoti train ke saath bhaagta thha. Raat me daud lagata thha, uss se muscles strong hote hain." But one regret that haunts him is missing the gold medal by a whisker at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Speaking in a language laced with Hindi and Urdu, he says that coming to Hyderabad might mean inspiring some small child about running. "Maybe another Milkha Singh will be born. In the past 60 years that I've run, I have not seen another Milkha Singh. Before I die, I would be happy to see another Milkha," he says, adding, "I salute mentors like Gopichand who have given the nation talented sportspersons. The 120 million Indians need more mentors like him."
The Flying Sikh does not seem too happy about the cricket-crazy nation that India has become. "Every child seems to be running with a bat scoring runs. The media is to be blamed for that as so much is written and shown about this game. Other sportspersons can take a cue from cricket." He feels that in every street and village, a sporting talent is waiting to be discovered.