The Autobiography of Aslam Sher Khan
By Matin Khan, Allied Publishers, 1982
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|Hockey has always been a poor man's
game. And Bhopal has always been its cradle.
Little boys would play hockey in the narrow lanes of Bhopal which had running drains on either side. The passes had to be short and the ball had to be glued to the stick
The best of the talent on display in the lanes of Bhopal found a place in the state team, then known as the Bhopal Wanderers.
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n a graveyard besides the lower lake at Raitghat, there was a small clearing where children of my age played hockey. The ground was opposite the house of one of Bhopal's more colourful personalities, Nahar Singh, whom script writer Javed later immortalised as Soorma Bhopali in the film 'Sholay'.
One day during practice, I felt pain in my right leg. My joints could not bear the weight of my little body, and I crumbled to the ground. My maternal uncle Saadat picked me up in his arms and took me home. My father's salary as a teacher was too meagre for proper medical treatment. An elderly hakim who was a family friend began treating me.
Evenings became intolerable as I visualised my friends playing hockey, and I used to say tearful prayers to God to make me well. Uncle Saadat found my tears unbearable too, and started taking me to the ground, perched on the bar of his cycle.
Slowly my joints started responding and then one day I had no pain. It was the hakim's prescriptions and my obsession with hockey that finally cured me. I remember running back home panting, deliriously happy that I could play hockey again.
Hockey has always been a poor man's game. And Bhopal has always been its cradle. Little boys would be found playing hockey in the narrow lanes of Bhopal which had running drains on either side. Since the lanes were narrow, the passes had to be short. Since there were drains on either side, it was necessary to keep the ball glued to the stick.
The boys started playing hockey with khapotas. They would climb trees in search of a branch curved at a slight angle, cut the branch and fashion it into a hockey stick.
The ball was made likewise. A round piece of stone would be covered with a paste of sand, water and mud. A layer of smaller stones would be embedded to the paste, covered with another layer of paste and rounded into a ball. This would be covered with bits of cloth, put in an old stocking or vest, and one of the mothers would stitch it into a ball.
The best of the talent on display in the lanes of Bhopal found a place in the state team, then known as the Bhopal Wanderers. Some of the boys who represented Bhopal and were called to national team selection camps, made a living out of rolling beedis during the day. Others sold samosas, which their mothers prepared, at Bhopal's railway stations. Some earned their living from paan shops, and others from tea stalls.
All of them left their work in the evening, some with permission, others without it, to play hockey. The game was in their blood.
With Vijay Gupta (left) and P. C. Sethi of Bhopal