The guards at the entrance saluted us as we drove through the main gates of Dring Stadium; one of the oldest multi-purpose sporting facilities in Pakistan. It was the first cricket ground in West Pakistan to host a Test match, when it welcomed the Indian cricket team during India’s inaugural tour of Pakistan in 1955. Sadly, the venue was never used for an international cricket match after that. However the stadium did prove to be the learning ground for several hockey legends that the city of Bahawalpur produced.
As we walked towards the main pavilion, Sikander Uncle shouted “oh there he is” pointing towards a tall man with a wrinkled face, dressed in a gray Shalwar Kameez and a matching Sindhi Topi. There he was, the legend himself; Motiullah Khan sitting in the cricket pavilion closely watching a group of youngsters playing cricket. He loves sport they told me and comes to the stadium every day. As I was introduced to him, I was told that he is hard of hearing so I will have to shout any questions I had, something I found really uncomfortable given I was in company of an Olympian. Not just any Olympian, but a core member of the hockey team that landed Pakistan’s first ever Olympic Gold Medal. On the afternoon of 9th September, 1960 Naseer Bunda scored an early goal against arch rivals India and then the Pakistani defense came into action stopping countless Indian attacks to deny them their 7th consecutive gold.
I over enthusiastically pulled a chair right next to the legend himself to listen to the stories of Pakistan Hockey’s glory days. Motiullah Khan started off by saying what a pleasure it was for him to meet me. I was so embarrassed as the pleasure was all mine but in all the excitement I had forgotten my manners to thank him for his time.
“Ayub Khan buhat khush tha” he said, with a big smile on his face, explaining how the hockey team was honored at a national level when they came back to Pakistan. He remembered how he asked Field Marshall Ayub Khan to arrange a trip to Europe for the entire team as reward for winning the gold medal, a request the General honored. Motiullah Khan was all chirpy as he told me how he thoroughly enjoyed the subsequent visit to 9 different European countries.
I wanted to hear more and so he obliged. “Bara zabardast muqabala tha” was the only thing he said about the final with India, repeating the same phrase a few times. I thought he would talk more about the Indian team and the challenge they gave but instead he chose to talk about Japan recalling how a Japanese player came to him after the gold medal match and asked him for his hockey. It is something he remembers to date, the honour and the respect that the Japanese gave the Pakistani team.
I was cherishing every single moment with him, trying to capture every little detail of the stories he was telling me. I always wanted to play hockey in national colors, a dream I failed to fulfill but here I was in company of perhaps one of the most decorated hockey players the country had ever produced.
Suddenly I heard a few people shouting, a sort of mad rush and realized that the chief guest was arriving. The cricket match that Motiullah Khan was so calmly enjoying was the final of a local cricket tournament played between two schools. It was time to distribute the medals to the winning and runner up teams.
The organizer hastily asked us to move to the side as the path was cleared for the chief guest to arrive, some random angry government official in the finance department. The officials started addressing the gathering and by this time I had been pushed to a corner which gave me a clear view of the proceedings.
There I was, standing, looking at these young enthusiastic sportsmen accepting their medals from an annoyed government official who was more interested in showing his presence and stature. All this while a living sporting legend sat quietly in the corner with a big smile on his face, enjoying what he loved most, sport.
It is then when I recalled my first conversation with Motiullah Khan which was during a brief meeting at a wedding in Lahore. I was 16 at the time and really good at hockey, gunning to make it to the U16 Pakistan Hockey team. I still remember him putting his arms around my shoulder and telling me “hockey mein kuch nahin rakha baita, parhai karo parhai”.
It took me another 16 years to understand what he meant. I hope we as a nation learn to respect our heroes, it is only then we will be able to produce a production line of more.