I: Hashim the Pioneer [Part
The province of Peshawar, in Pakistan’s northwest frontier, is the last area
one traverses before passing into Afghanistan, and now a focal point for Afghani
refugees fleeing the Taliban-led nation. It is on several levels a rocky region,
ruggedly mountainous and home to the Pathan tribe, a fiercely independent
race of herdsmen, farmers and warriors known for their keen eyesight and steady
hands, and reputed to be among the finest marksmen in the world.
It was this
tribe that ferociously and successfully defended the Khyber Pass – prized
as a gateway to India and its lucrative markets – from British attempts
to control it, this tribe that provided the spirit that allowed used old
muskets and obsolete equipment to repulse a vastly superior Russian army,
and this tribe that spawned probably the greatest extended-family dynasty
in the history of competitive sport.
This latter phenomenon
traces its roots to 1916, or thereabouts, when the wife of Abdullah Khan,
Head Steward of the Club (a favorite outpost for British officers stationed
to guard the nearby Khyber Pass), gave birth to their first son, Hashim by
name, in the tiny village of Nawakille. The Peshawar Club offered a wide range
of sports for the officers’ amusement (from lawn tennis, Abdullah’s favorite
game, to hard racquets to billiards) but the roofless squash courts commandeered
the youngster Hashim’s primary attention when he was just eight years old,
for it was there, perched on the back wall while the officers played, that
he could make a few rupees returning errant shots.
When the oppressive sun became too onerous for the officers to bear, or when
the onset of evening drew them back to the club-house for dinner, the courts
would empty out and Hashim, playing barefoot on cement floors often in temperatures
exceeding 100 degrees F, would knock a broken or over-used squash ball around.
Who would Hashim play? As he said in his autobiography, it was “Hashim versus
His father Adbullah
met an untimely death in an auto accident when Hashim was only 11, but
by then Hashim’s dedication to squash was so firmly embedded that he quit
school one year later to pursue his dream of becoming a squash professional.
in 1942, he was given a coaching position at the Air Force Officers’ Mess
and in 1944, at age 28, he participated in (and won) the first All-of-India
Championship in Bombay. He successfully defended this title each of the
next two years but sports were then suspended for several years due to
the widespread fighting caused by the creation of a new state, Pakistan,
out of those areas of India that were predominantly Moslem.
THE WORLD STAGE
The partitioning of India and establishment of Pakistan were complete by the
turn of the decade (with Hashim being appointed squash pro at the Royal Pakistani
Air Force and winning the first Pakistani Championship in ’49), and when Abdul
Bari, playing for India, advanced to the final of the British Open in 1950,
some Pakistani government officials decided that Pakistan should also be represented
in this Wimbledon of squash. Pakistan was a new and poor country, and it fell
to a private citizen to fund the trip to England. Though nearing his 35th
birthday, Hashim was selected to play in the 1951 British Open, which he won
in a one-sided 9-5, 9-0, 9-0 final against four -time winner and Egyptian
great, Mahmoud El Karim, whom he also decisively beat in the ’52 British Open
final en route to six straight Open titles and seven overall, the last of
these occurring in ’58, when Hashim was an unbelievable 41 years old.
LOTS OF SILVERWARE
In addition to his septet of British Opens, Hashim won the US Open (later
renamed the North American Open and now again called the US
Open) in ’56, ’57 and ’63 — at
age 48! — as well as three Canadian Open and five British Pro championships.
All this from a man who didn’t enter his first major championship until
just months before his 35th birthday, when most top-flight players in
this most grueling of sports have long since passed their prime. Yet for
all the superlatives that deservedly describe the exploits and longevity
of this soft-spoken and seemingly ageless protagonist, Hashim’s greatest
legacy arguably lies not in his own competitive record but rather the
role he would come to play as patriarch of the Khan clan and progenitor
of the Khan dynasty.
to THE KHAN FAMILY . PART TWO ]