Mushtaq Ali’s stories are stuff of legends in this part of the world and when his son Gulrez Ali digs into the treasure trove, one can’t help listening with rapt attention. Twelve years after he passed away at the age of 90, Mushtaq Ali, who was the first Indian to record a Test hundred away from home and remembered for his explosive batting at a time when it was not in vogue, remains a legendary figure in this part of the world.
Taking a walk down memory lane, Gulrez recalls with pride how his famous father rejected former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s offer of Pakistani citizenship just after partition in 1948. In fact, Mushtaq was offered Pakistani citizenship twice by the erstwhile Pakistan premier.
“My father once told me that he was invited by Zulifqar Ali Bhutto, if my memory serves me right, around 1947-48 to go to Pakistan and live there but he refused,” Gulrez recollected during a chat with PTI. “The second proposal was I think during the meeting with Indira Gandhi in Shimla in the 70s. He politely refused on both occasions, telling Bhutto that “India is my home,” it has given me everything and I will live here all my life’,” Gulrez said during a freewheeling chat.
As a tribute to the former Pakistan PM, he recalled how Mushtaq decided to give nickname ‘Zulfi’ to Gulrez’s son Abbas Ali. Like Gulrez and his grandfather, Abbas Ali also represented Madhya Pradesh with distinction in the domestic circuit and also toured Pakistan with India A side in 1998. Having retired from first-class cricket two years ago, Abbas is currently the fielding coach of the senior state team and is readying the players for the upcoming Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.
Having lived for decades in the house built by his grandfather in 1926, Gulrej now stays a contended man with his family in another home. The family had long given up hope on getting back the ancestral house where Mushtaq was born in 1914. Mushtaq had wished to live the last years of his life in the house where he was born and turn it into a museum.
But, Gulrez claimed that after getting government clearance in 1990s when Digvijay Singh was the CM of Madhya Pradesh, it ran into legeal hurdles. The property, now in a dilapidated state in the heart of the city, was given to Mushtaq Ali’s father, who was serving as superintendent of police at the time, by the British. “We had then all the necessary clearance to move to that house, where the son-in-law of a justice was staying, and they assured us that they would hand over the keys once they find another house. Before I could go again, the house ran into litigation,” Gulrez said.
Entangled in legal wrangling, Mushtaq Ali told his son “this was not the way I wanted my home”. Mushtaq’s wish of approaching Digvijay Singh to allot the bungalow in his family’s name suffered another jolt because of a change of guard at the state government. “And we have stopped pursuing after he passed away in 2005. After he was gone, there was little hope of gaining hold of the bungalow. We abandoned our plans of a museum because we didn’t want to get into the litigation.” He is not sure if the dispute is still on.
The flamboyant Mushtaq Ali, who played 11 Tests between 1934 and 1952, was the first Indian to score a Test century overseas — 112 at Old Trafford in 1936, when he beat Vijay Merchant to the mark during an opening partnership of 203. Asked about his father’s legacy, Gulrez seemed contend despite the state not producing too many India players over the year. Barring leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani and off-break bowler Rajesh Chauhan, none could make an impact at the international level.
Former BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale has his hopes pinned on Avesh Khan, one of the pacers selected to accompany the Indian team to South Africa as net bowlers, to make it big. “There was a big gap after Mushtaq Ali last played in 1952. From 1952 to 1985 there was nobody from Madhya Pradesh playing for India. Then things changed with Hirwani coming in, then there was Rajesh Chauhan, Amay Khurasia and J P Yadav for a brief while and recently Naman Ojha. “We had some good youngsters coming up last year – one of them being Avesh Khan. This year MP is likely to reach all the knockouts,” Jagdale, a former MPCA president and who has an academy named after him, said.