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NOVEMBER 2001 Contents
Page 1 of 8
PAKISTAN SQUASH - THE KHAN SUPREMACY
(All photos courtesy Squashtalk.com)
An Irish Officer, Commander Kelly, serving the Royal British Air Force, and a groupof young dedicated fledgling Pakistan Air Force officers stationed in Peshawar in the late 1940s (1947-50) got together to create a monopoly of almost uninterrupted domination in Squash. The game played in a windowless pit measuring 32 feet in length and 21 feet in width, owes its origins to the debtors’ prison in Fleet Street.
Squash was also Pakistan's entry and introduction to the sports world soon after itsindependence in 1947. Squash supremacy and Pakistan have been synonymous for the past fifty years with the common factor of a family called the KHANS.
The Khan Squash dynasty was started by a phenomenon called Hashim Khan, still thebest known name in Squash, a person whose name has transcended the minority confines of his chosen sport due to the magnificence of his achievements. The storybegan when Hashim, who was a Squash professional at the Peshawar Air Force Mess, convinced his officers to send him to play in the British Open - The Wimbledon of Squash - in 1950.
The Khans have another common factor, Noakili. At the time of independence in 1947the Khans of Noakili, a small village outside Peshawar, were coaching Tennis andSquash to the members in the various Gymkhanas (Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta, Sindh Club etc.)
THE NOAKILI FACTOR
The village of Noakili, a couple of miles from Peshawar is close to the Pakistan AirForce base. Noakili is small, nondescript and primitive. Low houses of baked mud are clustered around tiny yards. Dirt streets are narrow and pitted. Poor people share miserably cramped accommodation and their tiny gardens support a few vegetables and perhaps chickens. Scrawny horses, donkeys and water buffalo do their share of the work. It is very much a male dominated society where women wear the veil and keep to their homes.
During the Afghan wars in 1880s, Peshawar was the headquarters of the BritishForward Command . Rawalpindi, 100 miles further south, the present headquarters of the Pakistan Army, was the other major command base. The quintessential component of any such establishment - the Club - was also established in these two bases. This explains the wide presence of Squash and Tennis facilities in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Murree, Kakul, Jhelum, Abbotabad, Quetta, and Malakand - all constructed by the Royal British Army in the late nineteenth century. While the hill tribes were still resisting the British presence, the inhabitants of Noakili were more ready to come to terms with them. There was one big advantage of the Peshawar Cantonment, it offered employment in a whole range of jobs. Two families in particular were to become involved with the Peshawar Club. They were the descendants of the Rehmatullah Khan, the Imam or prayer leader in Peshawar, and those of Muhammed Ali Khan.
When the two families later became joined by marriage, the Khan dynasty was forged.Abdul Majeed Khan, son of Rehmatullah was born in 1862, the year that the Peshawar Club was built. It could not have been more appropriate as his whole life was to be entwined with the place. Learning and mastering the new games brought in by the British, he rose to be a Principal Marker at the Club and built up such a reputation that his expertise was sought elsewhere. He ran a school for Markers and other clubs would apply to him for these officials.
One of Rehmatullah's friends at the Peshawar Club was Abdullah Khan the ChiefSteward, a keen tennis player and a competent performer on the squash court. In 1916, Abdullah's son, Hashim, was born. The boy soon imbibed his father's love of sport and listened eagerly to the tales that were brought back from Peshawar. At the age of eight, he was taken along to the Club for the first time. He climbed the little stone steps at the back of the squash courts and looked down at the game below, at brick walls covered in plaster and already autographed by hundreds of ball marks, a cement floor that deadened the bounce slightly and a roof that was open to the skies, acting as a sun trap. Hashim Khan was mesmerised.
Hashim lost his father in a car accident when he was eleven. He therefore had to play to survive. Initially he started as a Ball boy who sat on the balcony of the Squash Court to retrieve the balls, since Squash was then played under open skies to counter the vagaries of the weather which could be extremely hot in the summers and remarkably cool in the brief winter months. Sustenance was not a problem because there were plenty of British Officers who played every day. The Club culture has always been a strong British tradition and the additional stress of manning the borders of British India with the fighting Afghans drew the officers closer to the clubs.
Hashim developed a strong fascination for Squash and whenever opportunity presented itself, after the Sahibs had left or before their game, he played. Therefore most of his Squash was played under the blazing afternoon sun whilst his Sahibs took their siestas. This strength, stamina was to carry him through in his later years in life. Very soon Hashim became the best player in India and in retrospect it could well be deduced that had Hashim started playing competitively in the early teens he may just have won the British open at least 25 times because he achieved his first Open title at the age of 35.
Other pioneers of the Khan dynasty, Roshan Khan and brother Nasrullah , were sonsof the Marker at the Rawalpindi Club. Their father's name was Faizullah Khan. Nasrullah ultimately landed in Delhi where one of his pupils was Earl Wavell, Viceroy of India, an enthusiastic Squash player. A letter of recommendation from Lord Wavell was to change Nasrullah¹s destiny as one of the finest coaches ever in Squash and amongst his pupil was one of the architects of the modern professional game - the great Jonah Barrington. Roshan, apart from being a British Open winner in 1957, is the father of Jahangir Khan.
The Partition in 1947 had great significance for the Khans of Noakili. They wereemployed by the same British soldiers and airmen who were pulling out. Hashim and Azam were still in Peshawar, Roshan was helping his father at the Rawalpindi Club, while Nasrullah was in Delhi. Another cousin Abdul Bari was in Bombay, Jamal Din and Mohammed Amin were in Delhi. One day the Khans were Indian citizens and the next day they were all, apart from Abdul Bari and Jamal Din, Pakistanis.
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