/The Indian constant in Mushtaq Mohammads memory trail

The Indian constant in Mushtaq Mohammads memory trail

Mushtaq recollects the 1960-61 series in India as if it were yesterday. "It was a very big thing for me to come to Bombay, he says. "Every evening we used to go to the Chowpathy beach to have gol guppe."

Mushtaq recollects the 1960-61 series in India as if it were yesterday. “It was a very big thing for me to come to Bombay, he says. “Every evening we used to go to the Chowpathy beach to have gol guppe.” ©Cricbuzz

Mushtaq Mohammad experienced a strange sense of deja vu as he sat down at his Birmingham home to watch the Pakistan-India game on June 16. No sooner had he been informed by one of his family members that Pakistan were mounting a comeback through Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman, that a collapse took out the next four wickets for 12 runs. It took Mushtaq back to the 1999 World Cup final and to the Lord’s balcony, where he sat as the head coach in the belief that Ijaz Ahmed and Abdul Razzaq were turning the tide, only for his team to implode to 132 all-out.

“It was a pathetic feeling… just pathetic,”. He closes his eyes before the second ‘pathetic’ almost as if he were replaying the scenes from 20 years ago in his head. He remembers the general feeling of disappointment in the country that had sought temporary solace through cricket at the height of the Kargil conflict.

His memory of the aftermath is vivid: the knives were out against his team despite a largely successful tournament. But there was no abuse, definitely not the personal kind like the current lot were subject in the week following their defeat in Manchester.

“We just want to sell newspapers and our news channel shows these days” he says. “They just pick on players, so people find something good to read on it. Yes, Pakistan may not be as good these days but inshallah you’ll get to see our best soon.”

A septuagenarian now, Mushtaq doesn’t get technology either. “Is it bridging or dividing cricketers and the public?,” he ponders. The former Pakistan captain is a product of a vastly different time and distinct upbringing. The fourth of five Mohammad brothers, Mushtaq was born in the city of Junagadh in the Kathiawar peninsula on the Indian western coast. The family migrated to Pakistan during the partition of 1947. But even at the height of religious and identity tension, the Mohammad children inculcated the values of ‘live and let live’ and respect for another person’s choices and personal space.

“We were a muslim family that had just migrated to a muslim state. Our elders had come to Karachi about six months before we arrived and they found a place for the whole family to stay. Funnily enough, that was a mandir(temple). It was a Kalbhairav mandir, a huge place. The people who lived there still actively went for pooja paath (prayers). My mother Ameer Bee was very angry with the elders. ‘Why are we intruding somebody’s place of worship? We shouldn’t be here,’ she used to say.

“But the people in that community, the Hindus, kept saying they were leaving to India. In about two-three months, everybody disappeared. I remember a couple of them stayed behind for a little longer and they requested to be allowed in for pujaand my mother wholeheartedly did so. My younger brother Sadiq Mohammad and I even studied in the Christian Mission School. As I grew older, I often questioned: ‘Who am I really?’ I was lucky I had such an inclusive, value-based upbringing.”

It is perhaps no surprise then that Mushtaq has lived four decades in Birmingham, among the most racially diverse cities in Britain. The last 15 of these 40 years have been spent at the Attock Cricket Club, a district in Pakistan from where the club takes its name. Mushtaq lives across the road from the Moseley School grounds where the club is based and serves as a mentor. If he is not conducting small coaching clinics, he is generally regaling those around with tales from his playing days. He is out to inspect the pitch on the outdoor nets when we sit down for a chat.

This is the same pitch that good friend Bishan Singh Bedi always asked for when he brought some of his wards to Birmingham. The pair go well back, to their days as roommates at Northamptonshire. They’ve constantly kept in touch post their cricketing careers with Bedi making it a point to ring his “champion” ever so often, to discuss life, ageing and occasionally Indo-Pak cricket. During the last bilateral series between the countries in 2012-13, the two mastanes even got together to visit famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib’s haveli in Delhi before dining at a famous Mughlai cuisine restaurant together.

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Incidentally, it was an Indian connect that brought Mushtaq to cricket all those years ago. Among those that had moved to the western state of Pakistan in 1947 was former Jamnagar resident Abdul Aziz Durani, father to Indian cricketer Salim and the cricket coach at Sindh Madrassah School in Karachi. “Master Aziz”, as Mushtaq still refers to him as, had been so impressed watching a young Hanif Mohammad bat at a local game at Bolton Market that he made it his life’s ambition to mentor him into a Test batsman. Naturally, the rest of Karachi then wanted to be coached by Hanif Mohammad’s coach, including younger brother Mushtaq.

“This gentleman had said Hanif would become a star and began coaching him day and night,” Mushtaq recollects with a chuckle. “My mother was a badminton champion in India and encouraged all of us to play sport and I wanted to copy whatever my brothers did. Now I also had to play Test cricket for Pakistan and had to be coached by Master Aziz. Maybe I was not as talented as Hanif, but I was told I had the potential to play at least one Test for Pakistan.”

That debut eventually came at Lahore in March 1959. But between then and his next Test, Mushtaq had to wait 21 months. But that Test match, at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, reacquainted him with his roots once again, 13 years after after his family had crossed to the other side of the border. Mushtaq recollects the 1960-61 series in India as if it were yesterday. “It was a very big thing for me to come to Bombay, he says. “We stayed at the Cricket Club of India. Every evening we used to go to the Chowpathy beach to have gol guppe. It felt like going to school and fooling around with your friends. And then next morning you are playing a Test match. We made some lifelong friends on that tour.”

Among the friends gained was a certain Lata Mangeshkar, legendary Indian singer, who was informed of a family of her fans from Pakistan ahead of the tour. “I’d grown up very fond of Indian classical music. People used to keep telling me that I had surile kaan (a ear for music) I can identify all the raagsand I loved the Thumri (a genre in Indian classical music). To meet Lataji, when she knocked on our door at CCI… I was lost for words. I remember my mother saying “Hanif, Mushtaq dekho kaun aaya hai (look who has come). She invited my family to view the recording of the duet ‘Sau saal pehle‘, composed by Shankar Jaikishan.

“We had to go through a little gate to get to the studio. And when she was informed, Latajiherself came out to receive us. She brought out a bigthaali(plate) with naariyal (coconut) and haar(garlands). All the traditional welcome gifts. It was so wonderful. And then she sang with Mohammad Rafi and we watched, speechless. We couldn’t believe our luck…”

Mangeshkar has been a friend of the Mohammad family since. She has been a guest at his residence in Birmingham. As has Bedi, Mushtaq adds. It’s his message from India that snaps Mushtaq out of the memory trail. It is perhaps some healthy World Cup banter between two old friends. For it is with a wide smile that Mushtaq excuses himself to perform the evening salat(the prayer just after sunset).

© Cricbuzz