A couple of days ago, I was sitting next to Mohammed Shahid on his hospital bed. He was conscious and we still believed he would make it. He looked at me, smiled and asked how my health was. He asked if I still played golf and then mumbled, “Partner, don’t worry, I’ll dodge death, too.”
Unfortunately, he couldn’t. The great Shahid has dodged past several seemingly strong hurdles all his life. But not this time.
To say that Shahid was India’s most artistic player since Major Dhyanchand would be putting it too simply. For what he was cannot be expressed in words. It could be seen in the opponent’s eyes. The fear when Shahid had the ball was a testimony to his talent and the threat he posed.
His greatness can be summed up from the fact that at the 1986 World Cup in London, our team finished at the bottom of the 12-team competition. Still, he was declared man of the tournament. It gives you an indication of his abilities.
But playing alongside him was at times as frustrating as it was pleasurable. Frustrating because if he had the ball with him, he wouldn’t pass. He would run from one end of the pitch to the other, dribbling past opponents as if they didn’t exist.
For those in the stands, Shahid was a magician pulling off his tricks. We would be mere spectators on the turf.
By we, I mean our opponents as well. I remember a match from the 1982 World Cup against Holland. By then, Shahid had already forged a reputation of being extremely skilful with the ball.
Holland had come with a plan that they thought was fool-proof. Every time Shahid would get the ball, around three or four of their players would circle him and close his options. They did that a couple of times and believed their plan was working.
Then, Shahid did what he did best. He casually stood with the ball, and just as the defenders closed in on him, he flicked his wrist one way, then the other at such high speed that the ball became a blur. He ran through the defenders and charged towards the Dutch goal. Those four Dutch players, meanwhile, looked at each other in disbelief. Just like that, their game-plan was shattered.
But the opponents he liked playing against the most were Pakistan. He managed to get under their skin by toying with their best players and making them look like fools. Off the field, Pakistani players and Shahid would enjoy a very good rapport. In fact, many of their players were his fans, including their captain and one of the greats Hasan Sardar.
His followers extended beyond the hockey turf. Spectators back then came to see Shahid, not India.
He was popular among women, too. He looked good, was stylish and had a great build. A few members of India’s women’s team were his fans and one of them was even keen to marry him. “Partner, par woh toh sirf angrezi bolti hai. Humse toh bola jaega nahi (She speaks only in English. I won’t be able to),” he once told me.
He eventually had a love marriage, and I wasn’t surprised. He was a jolly person, and the most shaukeen in our team.
He was also a disciplinarian. He never asked for a favour from anyone. Even during our playing days, he used to take care of his own kit and never allowed anyone to touch his hockey stick. When he was in the ICU, he regularly asked his son if he kept his room clean.
He used to talk to Sujit Kumar, who used to play with us twice a week. But not once did he mention the health problems he was facing. Perhaps he did not want us to see him weak and in need of help.
The last two weeks have been particularly tough for him, his family and for me. Hopefully, his wife and kids will get the strength to pass through this phase. Shahid was just 56 and his family is still young.
For me, I’ll live with the memories. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any video clips of Shahid playing either on the internet or on television. Hopefully, we will manage a way to ensure the next generation remembers and loves him the way we have.
Rest in peace, partner!