Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sarfaraz A Rehman: Pockets

Sarfaraz A Rehman: Pockets: Back in 1974 our English teacher at Karachi Grammar School (let’s just call her Mrs X) gave us an essay to write. The choice of topics w...


POCKET RED ROSESBack in 1974 our English teacher at Karachi Grammar School (let’s just call her Mrs X) gave us an essay to write. The choice of topics was fairly routine, but there was one which sort of struck a chord with me. The topic went by the outlandish name of ‘Pockets’.
On what impulse I chose this topic, I have no idea. Suffice to say, I must have done a good job on it, because it ended up getting the highest marks. Almost four decades later, the essay is still fresh in my mind, not because of the marks it secured, but because inked in red, besides the essay was the comment “I am extremely surprised!“. Clearly, I did not look capable of putting together such a piece.
Since then, I have made peace with Mrs X, ( and I hope she is reading this note), but do marvel at the perversity of human nature. After 21 years of education,  I only remember one piece of writing and that too because the teacher doubted my ability.
So I have recreated the essay below, to prove I was really the “real deal”. The language might have changed a bit in 40 odd years.

When the airport announcement came, I went up to the aircraft in a jiffy. The DC-10 was spacious and the seats comfortable. This was one of the few times I had been in an aircraft and I was most excited. The aircraft raced off and it was up and away. Not too difficult at all. Being a naturally greedy teenager, the food was the next treat. All looked hunky dory, until that huge lurch. It was as if the food inside would settle for the sick bag instead. Ugh! Then the announcement lady said that we had hit an air pocket and should put on our seat belts. The word ‘pocket’ sort of stuck in my mind.
An air pocket must be the worst form of pocket in this world. There are many and most are fairly innocuous; though some carry a significance far beyond their rather simple image.
Take the pocket knife. A companion for many a year, it is the means to many ends. I acquired it to satisfy my grandiose imagination, that one day I shall defend a damsel in distress with this piece of equipment. Alas, it has been most disappointing, in that I have never come across a damsel in distress. So, while heavily resorting to the imagination to satisfy my ego, I have used it for more mundane work, like cutting fruit, paring some wooden stuff, specifically the bottom of a bat, and also to open up screws by inserting the point of the pocket knife into the groove of the screw and twisting it.
Traditional pockets are cavities created in clothes, to allow one to deposit odds and ends. Mostly these are chewing gums, but sometimes even in my pauper state, I still manage to keep some money in them. Older people have wallets which they put in their back pockets. These wallets stick out and attract the class of beings called pick-pockets. These are talented individuals, with slippery fingers and few scruples. I would not go near them.
Of course you would have noticed that the last mentioned was a hyphenated pocket. These are very convenient. They pop up everywhere to make life easy. Patch-pockets is one such hyphen. Hyphens have been created by the intellectually lazy for ease of usage. They are a ‘short-cut’ to making things happen; not really the ‘done’ thing in English.
There are also hidden pockets. These could be inside clothes or brief cases. They are supposed to accommodate money and other precious things. I of course do not require such an exigency, as my pockets are to let. One other hidden pocket is the one inside a Kangaroo. It is nature’s safety deposit of the cub, which can then safely move along with the mother kangaroo.
Lastly, the pocket battleships. These were fast, armoured navy cruisers created by the Germans in WW11. There was a lot of fear and propaganda behind them. The Deutschland and Admiral Graf Spee were the most notorious of this class. The battle for the Graf Spee was famous for its bluff element. Having done some damage to the Graf Spee, the Ajax and Achilles (British ships) had chased the pocket battleship into Montevideo. Some deft radio work convinced the German commander, that an enemy flotilla awaited the Graf Spee outside Montevideo. Despairing, the commander sank the Graf Spee himself. Clearly he had developed pockets of madness inside his brain!

The above essay was of course written in pre-Google times. Today when I Google the word ‘pockets’, the references are not too different from those used in my essay. It is good to know that some things never change.

Sarfaraz A Rehman: Hanumant Singh, I will always remember you

Sarfaraz A Rehman: Hanumant Singh, I will always remember you: I speak from faded memory, because to go into historical statistics is to lose the charm and mystery of what is just so natural I r...

Hanumant Singh, I will always remember you

I speak from faded memory, because to go into historical statistics is to lose the charm and mystery of what is just so natural
I remember Hanumant Singh.
Now, how many in Pakistan would say that? For that matter, how many in India can say that today? But it is true! I remember him well and owe him a debt which can never be repaid.
One hears you asking, why would an individual living in Karachi, have anything to do with an Indian prince?
I speak from faded memory, because to go into historical statistics is to lose the charm and mystery of what is just so natural.
Sometime in February 1964, aged five, I saw two of my uncles huddled together listening to a Grundig radio. Coming out of that radio was a harsh voice; I now know this voice to be of Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram, cricket commentator and former captain of India. As if attracted by a magnet, I sat down to listen.
It seemed like an event of earth-shaking proportion was on the cards. India versus England at Firoz Shah Kotla Ground, Delhi. One Hanumant Singh was approaching his century and that, too, on his Test debut. I listened, absolutely and totally absorbed, as Hanumant eventually did reach his century. Subsequent events are a bit vague. All five Test matches were drawn during that tour of 1964. In this particular one, I think England, despite Singh’s efforts, managed a big lead. Then the late Nawab of Pataudi, making a big double century in the second innings, batted India to safety.
Of Hanumant Singh, history can tell you that he fell into the curse of all Indian century makers on Test debut, pre-Gundappa Vishwanath─I think there were seven in a 37-year period, 1932 to 1969. No one ever made a Test century again and all were condemned to mediocrity; Abbas Ali Baig being the most famous of those.
Hanumant had a great pedigree; the English greats Ranjitsinhji and Duleepsinhji were his uncles, Indrajitsinhji his cousin, and if you look at some old photographs, he will be seen using the same trademark leg-glide which made Ranji great and famous.
Unfortunately, Singh’s career was short; 14 tests and 600+ runs. In the late 60s he was finally discarded and departed this world in 2006, leaving a very small cricketing legacy.
It is this legacy which concerns me personally. Little did I know what it meant to me that afternoon’s events, some 53 summers ago! The fascination I felt while sitting there, waiting for events to unfold (and in the subsequent days, as I heard the desperate struggle at the Kotla) became part of my life ever after, to this day. There was born an innate love for something I shall carry to my grave. Cricket became a part of my life and I lived and breathed cricket. So much so, that as I look back and do a time sheet of my activities, it comes out as work, sleep, giving time to loved ones, and then evidently cricket. Now the first three are essentials of life, but cricket is the first love and continues to be an entwined part of my existence.
Out of that fascination and love came an understanding for the game. Hours were spent stuck to a radio listening to Test matches all over the world, and then the hero worship which I developed for some great sportsmen, specifically Pakistanis. It is a montage of memories; Zaheer, as he flicked the ball past mid-wicket dozens of times on the way to his 274 in 1971; Hanif waving his bat a last time in Karachi in 1969; Raja striding out at Lords to battle the rainy conditions in 1974.
Images were engraved in my mind; Mohsin, sleeve buttoned down, waiting for rain to stop, stuck at 199 at Lords in 1982; Asif Iqbal doing his valley of death routine in 1976 versus Lillee, on pitches that were so green that you could not tell them apart from the square. And naturally, of course, I remember that last ball heave for victory by Miandad at Sharjah in 1986, which brought Pakistan domination for a decade. Above all, one man raising a Waterford Crystal trophy aloft and claiming the world for us, if only for just one moment, on that fateful day in March 1992, when Pakistan won the World Cup.
Yes, I owe Hanumant Singh a legacy and one day I would hope to tell the world about the trip which I have been on, during these 53 years, through Lords, Oval, National Stadium, Sharjah and many more, and those eons spent in front of the television or stuck to the radio, for the growing and intense love for one sport; cricket.
Read more by Sarfaraz here or follow him on Twitter @sarehman

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Curse of Béla Gutmann

imageI write this not as a superstition, but as an intriguing series of events, which defies logic. Nevertheless, the element of bud-dua exists in our belief system. For the rest, Allah knows best.
As I watched the football match between Benfica and Bayern in the European Champions Cup Quarter-Final, my mind flashed back to when Eusebio was king of Europe and Benfica the best football team in the world. Picked out of Mozambique, based on a chance discussion in a barber shop in Lisbon (about a soccer wonder kid), this 20 year old had made Benfica European Champions in 1961 and then again in 1962. It was no mean achievement, as they had beaten Barcelona and then Real Madrid in those finals.
Béla Guttmann was the manager behind Benfica. Much traveled and besides playing for Hungary, had been in the USA, South America and various European clubs. His history besides being adventurous, was also one of hard nosed independence and eccentricity. He rarely lasted beyond two seasons and was attributed with the quote “The third season is fatal”. After World War II, Europe being short of food, he asked that his managerial compensation be in the shape of fresh vegetables, so that he could feed himself and his family. He also had renowned arguments, which meant he had to move on from his job. He was fired from AC Milan in the mid 50’s despite the Rossoneri leading the Italian Serie A. He also took on Ferenc Puskas, the Captain of the Mighty Magyars of the 50’s and got fired.
So here was a man at the peak of his career. Acknowledged as the main force behind Benfica, he had already mentored Eusebio to greatness (who eventually became Ballon d’Or) and was looking at his last years of management spent at the top of world football. He was however, in his third season at Benfica, and maybe he should have reflected on his own words.
Somethings never change. Guttmann’s history was one of them. Having beaten Real Madrid in the 1962 European Final and Eusebio ending runner up in the Ballon d’Or election, Guttmann approached Benfica for an increase in salary. In todays monied world this is such an obvious move; Benfica would have done well to increase Guttmann’s pay. They chose to refuse and Guttman being who he was, walked. Much regret from everyone, but it seemed not the end of the world. However, as Guttmann left Benfica, legend has it he cursed the club, declaring “Never in a hundred years, will Benfica ever be European champion”. This is what in our words, is called a bud-dua.
I am no one to judge the merits of this curse. But, 54 years on, as Benfica lose to Bayern Munich in another European Champions Quarter-final, they have lost all eight of their subsequent European finals, comprising five European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988, 1990) and three UEFA Cup/Europa League finals (1983, 2013 and 2014). An amazing series of events and a statistic which has intrigued many in football. This course of events is similar to the much spoken “curse of the Bambino” on the Boston Red Sox, which took almost 90 years to break.
Just to show that in Portugal they take this curse very seriously, before the 1990 European Cup final, which was played in Vienna, where Guttmann is buried, Eusébio (Guttmann’s former star player) prayed at Guttmann’s grave for the curse to be broken. As I finish writing, the score ends Bayern 3- Benfica 2. Another year gone.
* picture is from

The Bob Beamon Moment

imageOn the afternoon of October 18th 1968, in Mexico City our world was about to witness the “historic moment” of sports history.
The world was bubbling and very revolutionary then. It was the late 60’s and Vietnam, Paris and Prague had all brought people on the streets. Flower power was asserting itself and rebels (with causes) were standing for their rights. Muhammad Ali and Bob Dylan were each leading their own revolutionary battles. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated for their respective causes. Then there was the black power movement and only one day before, two black American athletes had been thrown out of the Mexico Olympics for demonstrating the Black Power salute on the medal stand.
On this afternoon Bob Beamon was about to participate in the Long Jump Final. The world record had moved 22 cms in 33 years, since the record jump of Jesse Owens. Beamon was lucky to get through, as he had two foul jumps in the semis and just scraped through on the third. No one, literally no one in the world, could predict what was about to go down.
On the first jump, Beamon took a deep breath and tore down the track, hit the board perfectly and soared into the air, landing deep and for a split second his bottom grounded, cutting inches out of his jump. Nevertheless, despite this reverse, the jump clearly was long. It was so long that the automatic tape measure was unable to authenticate this number. So a manual measure was done, which took some 20 minutes of confirmation. When the result was flashed on the board and across the world, it beggared belief. Beamon had broken the record and his own best by 55 cms. When the result came, Beamon himself collapsed on the track in some sort of seizure. Beamon’s jump knocked out long jump as a competitive event, for decades. It is almost 50 years to that event and only Mike Powell has once out-jumped this number. The Bob Beamon Moment is the single biggest sporting surprise in history.
Cut to today and the Rio Olympics 2016. Wayde van Niekerk came to Rio as a good 400 metre runner. Niekerk had won the World Championship last year, but Kirani James and Merritt, previous Olympic champions were considered still better runners. Niekerk would expect to be on the medals stand, though he had a mediocre qualifying round. When the lot was drawn, it put him in lane 8 ahead of everyone, and so his goose was cooked. It meant he would have to run the race blind, ahead of everyone else. The best Olympic time running from lane 8 ever recorded was 44.66 seconds. Michael Johnson world record stood at 43.18, recorded in 1999. James and Merritt felt confident that running from mid lanes, the real battle was between them now.
Niekerk had no option but to go full blast from the start. But 400 while being a sprint, does exhaust one and one generally ends the race in such a situation as a walking dead. So in the face of this full blast, at 200 metres, James and Merritt (both running fast times also) would fully expect to haul Niekerk in. Infact, if you run the video on the net, it is amazing that Niekerk is so far ahead, that the video actually does not capture him for a bit. Around 350 you can see Niekerk slowing and then most extraordinarily, he kicks on, building a new lead and to the finish. When the result came out, it was 43.03 some 0.15 below the WR, but remember the best lane 8 time. That is what makes this extraordinary. Niekerk ran the second 200 metres faster than the first 200.
The best way to gauge this performance, is to look at Usain Bolts reaction when the time is announced. Bolt was waiting for his 100 metres final, where subsequently he also created history. Bolt also left his pre-run interview and went to hug and congratulate van Niekerk. All these videos are on the internet for one to see. So now is this another great, shocking moment in sports history? It is shocking enough for journalists, around the world, to question it in the press conference. It is shocking enough to make ones spine tingle and I just hope it goes down in history as one of those Bob Beamon Moments.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sarfaraz A Rehman: That Slice of Fame

Sarfaraz A Rehman: That Slice of Fame: Does anyone remember Jimmie Nicol? Why would they! But the sad truth is that Jimmie Nicol was famous for two weeks in 1964 and reached ...

There is a poignant photograph of Jimmie sitting waiting for his flight at the airport. Jimmie Nicol was going home to obscurity, after his two weeks of fame. Since then, he has lived 53 years in obscurity...