Culture of cricket on both sides of the border suggested itself at this stage as a theme because of the shocking developments in Uttarakhand Cricket. Coach Wasim Jaffer, a legendary batsman (no one in cricketing history has scored over 19,000 runs in first class cricket) resigned from his job, harried by allegations of “communal bias” in selection of the state’s team. Jaffer blames Mahim Verma, Secretary of State Cricket, for promoting undeserving favourites, a fact which led to a conflict between the two.
Another cricketer, Iqbal Abdullah, more interested in the hereafter than scoring runs on the pitch, sought permission to invite a Mullah to lead the Friday prayers. This was unacceptable to Secretary Verma as it would be to any sensible person. But Verma was supportive of “Ram bhakt Hanuman ki jai” as the team’s slogan. Jaffer’s suggestion that “Go Uttarakhand” would help weld the team better was ignored.
Distress at incidents of this nature causes me to reminisce about better days. My initiation into test cricket was through the agency of a medium size AGA radio which had to be tuned every minute to hear the commentary with any clarity.
Commentary by Vizzy or Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram was the soul of Indian cricket for us novices. One of Vizzy’s obsessions was to have test cricket shifted from Green Park Kanpur to Lucknow, the city of Nawabs, which vibed better with Vizzy’s feudal, aristocratic temperament.
Lucknow, because of its stout resistance during 1857 was punished by the British on every count. Thus the High Court was bestowed on Allahabad as was the country’s premiere university. Industry was parceled away to Kanpur (Cawnpore, during the Raj) which, per courtesy the Industrialists, began to host the Test match at Green Park.
Vizzy was determined to exert all his influence in cricketing circles to have the Test match venue shifted to the picturesque grounds located between the University and Gomti River. It was on these grounds that the 1952-53 Pakistan team clashed with India in the second test. Opener Nazar Mohammad hit a century. Fazal Mahmood with his leg cutters took 12 wickets. Indian was routed. Meanwhile Lucknow’s adorable vagabond, raconteur and wit, Safdar had found two Maulanas at the match sources of great amusement with their gentle biases.
Fazal Mahmood bowled a leg cutter which was snapped up by Imtiaz Ahmad behind the stumps but the umpire disallowed the appeal. The Maulana’s leapt to their feet in excitement. “Click to hua tha?” (There was a click) said the Maulana peering into the binoculars. Safdar could not contain himself. Pointing to the binocular he asked: “Ismein sunayi bhi deta hai, Maulana?” (You can also hear through this instrument?) I have told this amusing incident earlier too.
Safdar had failed in High School several times at Islamia College where he remained an institution for years after his unsuccessful bid at scholarship. Islamia College was on a narrow lane which opened onto one of Lucknow’s main roads curving from Hazratganj past the Legislative Assembly building, towards Charbagh railway station. At this intersection was Royal hotel where the Pakistan team were staying. As one entered the hotel the lounge bar immediately caught the eye. In the middle was a circular service area decorated with alcoholic beverages, mostly beer served to guests seated on high bar stools.
The lounge bar was a curiosity by itself for students of Islamia College drawn to the Royal hotel for a glimpse of Pakistani players particularly, “batting prodigy” Hanif Mohammad, only 17 years old and Fazal Mahmood the ace medium pacer with blue eyes. For Islamia College students the “maikhana” or the Tavern was the haunt of Urdu poets. They had not seen a bar in real life.
What astonished them more was Maqsood Ahmad, Pakistan’s stylish number 3 batsman, quite at home at the bar with a large tumbler frothing over with Golden Eagle lager. Musharraf, the tall swing bowler from Lucknow’s famous Morning Star club, leading a handful of Islamia College boys lurched aggressively towards Maqsood.
“Aapko sharm naheen aati; Mussalmaan hote hue bhi sharab peete hain?(Aren’t you ashamed drinking even though you are a Muslim) A shocked Maqsood, along with his team mates, receded, balancing his beer.
It was stunning irony. Here were students in a secular state, admittedly culturally conservative and of a somewhat mofussil background, faulting cricketers from the newly formed Islamic Republic on the question of alcohol.
The answer possibly lies in the different evolutions of Lucknow and Lahore, the primary catchment area for the Pakistan team. After the experience of 1857, Lucknow had begun to accentuate its Urdu culture and shed the Anglaise in its makeup. The core of old Lucknow rejoiced in its chant “gandi galiyaan, saaf zubaan”. (Dirty lanes but elegant speech).
Lahore retained its cosmopolitan vigour until the other day – Maqsood or Maxi as he was called, was a creature of this culture.
Directive Principle of the Indian Constitution sets prohibition as a sort of ideal. This is in deference to Gandhian abstemiousness. In 1977, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in a burst of populism to outflank Gen. Zia ul Haq’s excessive Islamism, banned the consumption of alcohol. Yes, the same Bhutto who had brought his own crate of Chivas Regal to the Simla Summit in 1972. An exchange in Simla between Bhutto and his Berkeley University friend, the late Swatantra party leader Piloo Mody is memorable.
“Zulfie, I can understand you bringing your own scotch to Simla, but surely you could have accepted Indian soda.”
For irony, Bhutto’s response is a classic, considering that he is the author of Pakistan’s much flouted dry law.
“Have you forgotten Piloo, Scotch tastes best with Schweppes soda!”
Incidents mentioned above touch on creeping religiosity but they can yet provide some amusement. That religiosity has now putrefied to a point that a gentleman cricketer like Jaffer becomes an object of hate for folks like Mahim Verma advancing personal interests on the back of rampant communalism.