A photograph with Bishan Singh Bedi sits on a window sill in his living room in Birmingham. Every other week, the former India captain calls from India. A smile seems permanently etched on his plump face, and it’s the eyes that dance, twinkling at memories that the mind throws up.
Mushtaq Mohammad’s mind is a flip book of history. Of not just cricket but of the world. Not surprising for a man whose life has spanned three countries: Pakistan for whom he played, England where he has lived for several decades now, and roots and friends in India. You whisper an episode, and nostalgia rushes in to fill in the details. Above all, beyond the stories, it’s his unmistakeable warmth that stays with you. No wonder Bedi WhatsApps him every other day with a joke or a meme. No wonder Michael Holding goes all soft when you mention his name, “Mushy? You met him? wonderful player, great, friendly person.”
Oh, the stories. The boy who saw his brothers Hanif and Wazir play cricket at a disused Kalbhairav temple, their first home in Karachi after they fled from Junagadh in Gujarat during partition. Years later, he would come to Bombay for the first time, to play cricket.
“We stayed at CCI club. Bahut pyaar mila. My mother flew from Karachi and she watched cricket from Hanif’s room, which overlooked the ground. You know who was there along with her? For two days, Lata Mangeshkar sat there with her and watched cricket. She came and said, ‘mera naam Lata hai’. My mother asked her, ‘Kahan baithoge’? ‘Jahan ki ticket hai, wahin’. My mother tells her not to go there. Just sit here with me.”
He doesn’t tell it but the story behind his mother’s presence in India in itself is fascinating. During the tour, on a train ride, Hanif shook hands with someone he thought was a fan but got his hand slit by a concealed blade. Mother Ameer Bee rushed in from Lahore but there was to be more trouble.
A foot infection ahead of the Bombay Test meant Hanif’s toe nails were removed. He couldn’t play but his captain Fazal Mahmood found a way. He asked Mrs Bee to cajole him emotionally. A toe-shaped hole was cut into the shoe and Hanif played. He was run out for 160.
After the Test, the brothers and mother were whisked in a car to a studio on Mangeshkar’s request. “She was singing a song with Mohammad Rafi,” Mushtaq says. After a couple of takes fail, Mangeshkar signals the mother to come inside the studio. “She asks my mother to sit on the chair, and she sings. I loved India.” Is there a funnier story about a Test debut? Teenaged Mushy is sleeping in a train after a tour game against the West Indies when the train rolls into Lahore. He is told that he would be playing the Test in a couple of days. “I was so shocked.”
Other players and almost all the officials leave. Stranded at Lahore station, with nowhere to go, the kid is baffled. Luckily, someone tells him, ‘why are you standing here? Don’t you have your brothers here? Go to their place.’ But he doesn’t know where they were. “My home is Karachi. This is Lahore. I don’t know where to go. My two brothers Wazir and Hanif were in the team but were staying with their friends. There were no team hotels those days. So, they started to look for where my brothers were staying. They found they were staying at a friend’s place. They took me there. Wazir bhai saw me and asked ‘what are you doing here’, I said ‘I don’t know, they got me off the train, and said I am in the team’. He said ‘you must be joking’.”
Another problem surfaced. Mushy didn’t have any proper cricket shoes with spikes. “I had Bata ke joote. Dus rupay waley.” Fazal Mahmood asks, “where is your shoe?” “Yahi hai.” “No, no, these are tennis boots. You can’t play Test match in this. You have two brothers here, go ask them.”
But he isn’t sure whether they would fit him. “I try them. Hanif’s shoes were tight but Fazal bhai said ‘you better bring a pair of shoes, else you aren’t playing’. Hanif didn’t play that Test as he had broken his finger in the previous Test and I wore his.” He could not even walk properly in them. “It rained that day. Good thing I got his shoes, else . It was the first time I had ever worn spikes.”
Cricket accelerated the transition from boy to man. After losing a Test they should have won in Australia, Mushtaq was inconsolable when Ian Chappell walked up, congratulated him before adding, “You need to earn Test wins. It doesn’t come easily. Fight.”
Next tour was in the West Indies and Mushtaq and his men fight hard but stumble against the umpires. They had to just break the partnership of Deryck Murray and Andy Roberts but the umpires weren’t in mood. “The umpires told me to stop asking for lbw. ‘You see those three stumps, knock one of them down’! They just wouldn’t give them out.” For the 14 mandatory overs, the pair padded the balls away. Umpire Douglas San Hue told Mushtaq, who was pleading with them, that no way they could give a lbw verdict for fear of being lynched by the crowd. He played in the World Series, he starred in county cricket, he led Pakistan with distinction, and later coached them. After his playing career winded down, he came to Birmingham, he worked for Pakistan Airlines (PIA) in sales and marketing for 17 years. It’s to that photograph of the Indian in a Pakistani’s home that we return. “Bedi is like a brother to me. In our years playing for Northamptonshire, we stayed together from 1972 to ‘78. Woh mere ghar aa jaate they, hum dal roti leke wahan chale jaate they. Bishan used to call me champion all the time. ‘Champion, it is only a game. Play hard to win, but I want you in my room for a drink at 6.30’. This is how he was, one of the finest guys I ever met.”
Five years ago, when he was in Delhi, Bedi took him around old Delhi. A rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk after lunch at Karim’s. “Mushy went berserk with camera-lovely excitement,” Bedi had tweeted. Do mastaane, two Ghalib fans, two brothers, one Indian and other Pakistani, in Old Delhi. It must have been some sight.