By Sumegha Agarwal (eStart
SYDNEY - He is a man with a mission, and now he is literally a
torchbearer for his community. So much so that while in office, his colleagues start
running towards him striking that famous pose. When he goes out for his daily running
practice during lunch hour in Sydney's inner west, his colleagues and office goers from
the neighbouring factories start cheering him. Meet Harmohan Singh Walia who will hold
aloft the Olympic torch this September.
This devoted father of two grown-ups never ever thought that he would ever have
something to do with the Olympics. Late last year, AMP (Financial services) one of the
major sponsors offered its member companies to invite applications from their workers to
get a place in the Olympic torch bearer team. Walia came across one such notice in his
company, which asked applicants to write in 100 words the contributions they have made to
Walia had impressive credentials in terms of working for his community. He actively
participated in the activities of Sikh Mission Centre (Gurudwara), Austral for about three
years. For the last eight years he has been contributing a 10 minute long news bulletin in
Punjabi to two radio programmes - one in Sydney and other in Brisbane. He provided his
voluntary news service for over three years to the Punjabi program of a Perth community
radio station also. Each Saturday Walia spends all day browsing the internet and picking
news from other sources for his weekly news bulletin. His family is getting used to the
repertoire of community activities he is involved with. "Family wale dukhi the, ab
addat pad gai hai (earlier they were not too happy about it but now they have got used to
it)" chuckles Walia.
Son Indermohan is working as a Network engineer with an American company, while
daughter Kanchan is working in the customer service sector. Wife Manbeen teaches English
at Plumpton High school.
Walia applied and much to his joy he was selected. SOCOG (Sydney Organising Committee
for Olympic Games) had received 45,000 applications all over Australia for a community
representative spot in the torch relay team. 5000 were selected. 10,000 runners who are
doing an average run of 500 meters each will complete the torch relay.
It was a proud moment for Walia who had come a long way from Hoshiarpur in Punjab to
Sydney. By profession a quality control engineer Walia's motto in life is, "if you
take up something, do it with complete sincerity, honesty and diligence. And a job done
well is his inspiration to keep taking up more challenges. Otherwise don't bother about
it." He migrated to Australia with his family in the early nineties troubled by
political turmoil in Punjab and decided to make Australia home.
Walia is humble in his achievement. He tells that he never played any sports at state
or national level but he did play the regular Gulli-Danda, Pittu, Bante (games popular
with Indian kids), Basketball, hockey, Cricket as he was growing up in his home town of
However, he was always prepared to take up challenge. He remembers one time in
particular when a group of friends (Rakesh Raj Gupta, Satish Sharda, K.K. Vohra, B.S
Arora, Sehgal, late S.S. Rishi etc.) placed a bet to run from Patiala railway station to
the ESCORTS-GOETZE factory gate, a distance of approximately 10 kms. A time limit of 70
min. was placed on this run and Rs500 was collected for the winner. Three of them accepted
the challenge including Walia, but the two friends gave up very early and Walia finished
the run in 64 minutes. Walia could not walk for two days but for sure with the money
earned in the bet they enjoyed a good party.
This time Walia has to run only 500 m with the torch along Punchbowl Road from Wiley
Avenue and finish at House No. 353 on Roberts Road in the area of Greenacre/Punchbowl, at
approximately 9.15 am on Tuesday, 12 September. For this run he seems to have attracted
the attention of the whole world including his homeland. For this run he is running every
day five days a week since January this year when AMP and SOCOG announced his selection.
Walia is lovingly preparing his gear for the run. If you visit Walia at home, the stand
for the torch is sitting in his lounge room waiting for the torch Walia will be entitled
to bring home after the run. He has already paid for the torch and has bought many Olympic
T-shirts, badges and caps etc.
Liverpool council has organised community celebration at Woodward Park, Liverpool at
1.30 pm to welcome the torch. AMP will present Walia with a unique memento of the day and
he will sign the historic "Book of Australian Torchbearers". Devinder Singh
Dharia, Director Punjab Sangeet Centre and his group will entertain the gathering with a
Bhangra Dance during the celebrations.
On Sepetember 12 Walia is expecting a large group of friends, colleagues, his sponsors
and members of the local Sikh Community to cheer up this Flying Sikh of Sydney.
Like his mother who is deep into music and at 73 still does regular Kirtan (religious
music) at the local Gurudwara at Hoshiarpur, Walia is a musician. He plays Tabla and
Jalatarang (Indian classical instruments).
In Sydney, he has accompanied in many performances. At home in his suburb, Walia is a
conscientious neighbour. If ever an alarm goes off, Walia is the first person to rush out
and check and he did manage to stall some home break-ins. He was able to influence the
local minister to have more police patrol in his area which is prone to home break-ins.