SPORTS DAY AT MORGAH

‘We’ll have no one to replace you in the team,’ Braund said to Dan as lemons were being sucked at half-time, under the shade of the one solitary banyan tree. ‘With about half a ton of forward line you won’t miss me,’ replied Dan. ‘It’s only a matter of time before Harold and I have to hang up our boots,’ said Wally who was over forty years old. ‘Well, I’ll keep going until you find a replacement,’ rejoined Braund who, being a few years younger than Whitmore, didn’t much like the age reference. ‘You can include me in that proposition,’said Blair, who only played under duress. ‘Hey now, steady on,’ said B. ‘this sounds like mass desertion.’ ‘A lot of shirkers, aren’t they Bill?’ said Dan. ‘But I don’t think we’ll ever see another forward line like this in the Khaur Sahib’s Team,’ came from Bert Innes, the Anglo-Burmese goal-keeper. ‘After Mr Gill goes, that is.’ And how right he was. It was Dan’s last game before he left as Chief Geologist at the Oil Company where they all worked in the Punjab, and already a sense of disintegration was in the air. Dan was always rock-solid behind any enterprise he supported. ‘By the way, Mason,’ said Braund, the General Manager, ‘there are the Morgah sports in March and we’ve been asked to compete; can you get some training started? Speak with Thom, he has the details.’ B wondered sometimes if it was Braund’s endless faith in his abilities, or was there no one else? Now he was to be the Khaur Fields sports coach. The whistle blew for the second half, and the teams trooped back on to the hard earth pitch, to finish the game of football that the Sahibs were already winning by five goals to nil against the Drillers.

B was not then aware of the saying, ‘the load always get put on the willing back.’ This proposal of Braund’s was the third social project that had come his way since he had arrived in Khaur less than a year ago. At the club one day he had commented on the lack of a social unity between the ex-pats like himself, the Pakistanis, the Anglo-Indians, the married and single and had been asked to arrange some event which he had done in the form of a variety show. This had encouraged Braund to ask him to take on the entertainments side of the club activities and later to act as Club Secretary.

And now, ‘getting some training started,’ posed more questions than he had answers for. Pondering this new assignment with a certain amount of doubt, raised by a lack of any precedence to give him some guidance in the matter, he reflected, that at his stage of life in his early twenties, most things that would come his way would be of such a composition and, what he had to do was to start things off, get them rolling, and then adapt and adjust in the light of later advice, conditions or, impositional circumstances. A typical English approach to problems as he was surprised to find out much later in life. Making enquiries he found out that in pre-partition times there had been a Khaur led Fields representation at the annual Morgah sporting events. Mostly, however, these sporting events had been built around the British ex-patriates in an undivided India over which they were the rulers. Cricket, hockey, tug-of-war. Now, in an independent country the emphasis would have to be on bringing in as many Pakistanis as possible.

It became only too obvious that any athletic training was going to have to be built up from scratch. Working alone at first – Wally Whitmore joined him later – he was able to get a small group of about twenty young Pakistanis interested. None of these had run competitively and it was necessary to try them out at every distance before grading their abilities. This had to be done in a way that did not discourage them when it became apparent that they were not competitive in the events they hoped to compete in. At the same time, there were so few volunteers, he had to use some that were unlikely to achieve much at the competition. Labour from the Godown coolie gang was used for preparing the track. White lines were painted down and around the football pitch; a sand pit was dug for long jump and high jump; posts, boards and hurdles were knocked up in the carpentry shop.  So rapidly was it possible to get these initial preparations done that B was lured into unjustifiable confidence about the future progress of the next stages.

Training sessions began. Most of the competitors were from the offices and the majority of these from Khaur, although the outlying Fields regions contributed a few participants, and this meant having to arrange transport for them. Many who trained were not punctual; others would not train at weekends because they travelled back to their families in distant villages after work on Fridays. There was a handful of naturals, and these, B cultivated assiduously. An outstanding runner was Mehr Khan, one of the Godown clerks. A tall, thin, shock-headed young man who, if tidied up, or perhaps because he wasn’t tidied up, looked as though, in another environment, he would have been an intellectual. He was physically insouciant and unmotivated, but he could move like the wind at any distance. Sometimes, B imagined that Mehr Khan competed only to please him, because he was the most obedient, the most punctual and the most dedicated of all the training group whereas outside he seemed to be too independent to be reliable in anything. Mehr Khan was entered in three track events, and was prepared to run in more but B deemed it wise to make this limit. All the competitors ran bare-footed, and none of them wore shorts or vests; these were not recognised as articles of wear for them. They wore the baggy cotton trousers which they tucked up into a waist cord. This looked cumbersome and impeding, but they could agree to no alternative. As Muslims do not like to showing their bodies they also insisted on wearing their loose kamisas, which are closed shirts, falling loosely outside the trousers to the length of the hips or even the knees. Some of them used to flap like flags in a wind when they ran and the air resistance must have been considerable, but B had learned that it confused them when he tried to change their ways so, in the main, he left matters to their own liking. The two Anglo-Indians ran in track kit but were not top echelon competitors.

His efforts to recruit some British entries from amongst the younger staff met with no results, except for the traditional tug-of-war team that Khaur had always fielded, and from them he was at the receiving end of a degree of joshing in having been lumbered with his job. He made visits to Morgah  for liaising with Thom and to inspect the opposition training. A result of this was that he was able to introduce a psychological factor into the training of his team. Since less than half of the team spoke or understood English, he would get them in a group and, as he talked to them in English, with a few Urdu words interposed, those who understood, translated for those who couldn’t. Wally was helpful on the occasions he came to the training sessions by using his basic Urdu, in his deep, penetrating voice, to translate and emphasise B’s words. ‘That was a good session. Bohrt achah, but you must pick your  feet up when you run. Look. watch Mason sahib. Jezu Khan, keep your elbows in . Look. Closer to the body; and don’t put your head down. I want to see a medal from you. Medal? Prizes for winning. Yes, we want plenty of those.’ Jezu Khan was an intelligent, laughing character who spoke English quite well and B would use him to get through to the rest. Jezu Khan would  smile and laugh while those around him would whisper or nudge one another, asking for the words about himself to be repeated. ‘You must all get one medal and from you, Mehr Khan, I expect three.’ Mehr Khan looked both abashed and pleased as the words were translated to him. ‘I have seen the runners at Morgah,’ continued B ‘some are quite good, but beatable. Beatable? Can be beaten. You will be able to beat them. Yes, that’s right. Win. You will all win if you train hard. Mohammad Sharif, where were you yesterday? I didn’t see you training.’ Sharif was bold and liked the limelight, so spoke up as to an audience.’ My brother’s  wife was sick and I had to take my sister to take care of the children.’ Family was the centre for them all, and family demands were the causes of most of the absenteeism from training. Sickness and bereavements. But B noticed that there were muffled snorts of disbelief from those around Sharif. He would be glad when the sports day came. It was becoming increasingly more difficult for him to get full attendances on training days, and he suspected that Sharif had unlocked a suitable excuse mechanism that the others had been too uncertain to employ. But now, family sickness was worn threadbare  as though, like children, once having learned to play a trick, they could not see when they were working it to excess.

The senior staff travelled in cars to the Refinery at Morgah which lay just outside Rawalpindi; the sports team in a Company bus with Wally and B. There were a few Pakistani supporters with them. This was presumably considered as being mainly a sahib’s entertainment amongst the rank and file. Or perhaps, because there was no real interest in athletics in this rural community.Wally’s ebullient spirits kept a level of expectant cheerfulness during the long journey, but it was clear that much of his Urdu, learned when he was a Major in the Indian Army, was unintelligible to the Pakistanis, and Jezu Khan acted as a laughing catalyst, enabling the others to consider this as amusing instead of embarrassing. The gulf between the two Englishmen and the Pakistani team was immense from many different aspects, but hard work had been invested by both sides that had forged a genuine rapport, so they could feel united in going to Morgah to compete and, they hoped, to win.

The sports day was organised by the British ex-patriates and in essentials was similar to any of the home grown events held in summer time in towns and schools across the far off island home. The differences here were in the terrain, the climate and the competitors. Thom, the Scot, as chief official, bustled about with clipboard and cigarette, while B herded his rustic charges across the ground to the visitor’s enclosure. The British community with a sprinkling of Anglo-Indians and senior Pakistanis sat in cane chairs, along one side of the field, and behind them were trestle tables, where scorers and stewards sat over charts and cups of tea. A whistle sounding called the competitors of the first event of the meeting to their starting places, and very soon, the crack of a gun set going the 1949 Morgah sports day.

Wally and B were busy channelling their team to the respective starting points, exhorting with last minute advice and encouragement. It became clear from the score board that Khaur Fields was giving Morgah a close run, leaving the final result in doubt until the very end. In addition to the track and field events there were invitation races, childrens’ races and the favourite, a tug-of-war, which was a very sweaty business and won by Khaur Fields. The combined weights of Whitmore, Burridge, Liddell, Braund, Mason and others being too much for the lighter Morgah Refinery refinery side. As B walked away from this event towards the enclosure, Jezu Khan approached him with an unusually solemn face. ‘My leg is bad, sahib.’ One look at the swollen ankle and it was clear that it was not going to support Jezu Khan in any more events for some time. He had fallen awkwardly in the long jump, and was due to run in the hundred and ten yards high hurdles. ‘No, you sit down Jezu and I’ll get someone to look at your ankle.’ He went off to find Thom. ‘One of our competitors is injured, Ian, can we field a substitute?’ ‘Yes, that’s in the rules.’ ‘Good. Where can he get his ankle looked at?’ ‘Over there with Doc Doyle. Who’s your substitute and in what event?’ ‘Me, and its in the high hurdles, in place of Jezu Khan.’

It was like being shot from a gun at the starting post; he hadn’t run competitively since school days and never hurdled. There had been no need to change, his shorts and bush jacket served as running kit, and he discarded his sandals to run barefoot like the rest of the team. He wasn’t aware of the others; all his concentration was on the hurdles, and getting over them. As he approached the tape he could hear the yells and bent over, panting, hearing Braund’s voice, ‘a good run, Mason.’ Wally clapped his back, ‘You won, Billy boy.’ He could see from B’s face that it needed saying. Another win from Mehr Khan and it was all over and decided. Khaur Fields had defeated Morgah Refinery. There was a sense of jubilation amongst the Khaur team members and a great feeling of camaraderie. When tea and prize giving and speeches were over, the Fields people headed for their bus. Wally and B stayed on for the dance.

They joined with Blair and Tony to change in an unoccupied bungalow. gazing into a mirror at his first dinner suit, B wondered if there was going to be anyone to impress at the dance. Blair caught his rather too self-approving eye. ‘It won’t do you any good with the new Chief. He’s not like old Elliott who would give any runner or sportsman a job. Thom was telling me about a job application being sent to McLellen. Someone had written on it, ‘this man is a first-class cricketer.’ It was sent back with the comment, ‘we need first-class babus (clerks) not cricketers.’ There was a burst of general laughter as the four moved towards the door in their dinner jackets, shifting their shoulders, in preparation for the festivities ahead.

MARCH 1949