Tuesday May 28, 2024

A standing ovation for an innings of the ages

February 13, 2010

There was laughter and some tears as friends, relatives and admirers gathered at an informal reference for the late veteran sports journalist and former Group Sports Editor The News, and former Editor The News Karachi Gul Hameed Bhatti, at The Second Floor community space near Defence Library.

Prominent speakers highlighted Bhatti’s thorough decency and honesty, selflessness, professionalism, his pioneering role in establishing cricket statistics in Pakistan and on a more personal level, his sense of fun, his love for music, cinema, food and off-colour jokes, his unreserved support of his journalist wife’s career and dedication to their children Kamil and Sara.

The exchange of memories about someone who was a giant in more ways than one was also a trip down memory lane of Karachi’s history, to the Spencer Building that housed the Cricketer magazine of which Bhatti was editor for many years before he joined The News in 1990 as Sports Editor.

Journalist and aviation writer Afia Salam’s own journey from rookie editorial assistant in the early 1980s to editor of the Cricketer and on to aviation writing was linked closely with her association with Bhatti.

Bhatti’s late wife Razia, herself a trailblazing journalist, Editor of the Herald and founding Editor of monthly Newsline magazine, who died in 1996, was also very much in people’s thoughts. Her successor, Rehana Hakim remembered Bhatti as a “true feminist”, who open heartedly supported Razia’s career, enabling and giving her the space to do her work.

Former Newsline reporter Mohammad Hanif, now a well known fiction writer, recalled Bhatti’s pride in Razia and his touching confidence that having met her and begun working with her, Hanif’s career would take off – which of course it did. Hanif also recalled with gratitude Bhatti’s sheer humanity in taking notice of and caring for youngsters like himself who were outsiders in Karachi and hardly knew anyone in the metropolis.

Leading sports statistician Abid Ali Kazi recounted picking up the phone to call Bhatti, whom he didn’t know, for information he needed about cricket. He was late getting to Spencer Building and everyone had left. The Editor, Bhatti, waited for a man he didn’t know with a photocopy of the information he needed. “That was Bhatti Sahib – totally selfless.”

The encounter led to a lifelong friendship and working relationship, including eventually the formation of the Pakistan Association of Cricket Statisticians, of which Bhatti was President. In fact, he was more than a sports journalist – he was a “historian” who “single-handedly collected data”, as Kazi put it, dedicatedly compiling and publishing it in the Cricketer. “Statistics about Pakistan’s first class cricket exist because of him”.

Another old colleague, Tahir Memon visiting Karachi from Lahore recalled the first ever workshop to train statisticians in 1991 that Bhatti enthusiastically put together. The first workshop trained 23 youngsters; there were 73 scorers at the last one. For Bhatti, it wasn’t just about cricket, but about his real passion for “developing skills in the younger generation that he himself already had”.

Bhatti’s younger brother Kamal, who came down from Lahore for the memorial evoked much mirth with his accounts of their childhood and young Gul’s love for the chickens and assorted creatures in their Sargodha house. He would pick up a cricket bat to strike a sixer with any predatory kite that might swoop down on his beloved chicks, and give his own share of milk to the pet goat.

Journalist and television personality Mohsin Sayeed, who worked closely with Bhatti in the formative years of The News from 1990 onwards, introduced the speakers and also shared memories.

Another former colleague from The News, Rishad Mahmood, recalled Bhatti’s child-like spontaneity and his utter dedication to his work.

At the dawn of the year 2000, after the seven-member team hired for the Millenium Supplement walked out following a dispute with the management, Bhatti asked Rishad to help complete the task. They began working on the Supplement after the Sports pages had been “put to bed” at 11.30 pm . “We worked till 4.00 am. I was amazed at Bhatti Sahib’s precision and knowledge – he had all the facts about the past few decades and literally from a single scrap of paper he developed the entire Supplement,” said Rishad.

One of Bhatti’s oldest friends, Zainab Ansari, recalled a hilarious incident: annoyed at his boss Riaz Mansuri of the Cricketer, Bhatti paid for a matrimonial newspaper ad describing Mansuri exactly, but without naming him, complete with phone number. “Of course Mansuri Sahib found out it was Gul, and was furious, but Gul laughed and said he should be grateful for the favour.”

Well known composer Arshad Mahmud, who was in Lahore for the Faiz birthday celebrations, sent a note about his close association with Bhatti and their shared love of music. “My first ever interview as a composer which was printed in the evening ‘Star’ was by him,” he wrote. “This was before the album ‘Nayyara Sings Faiz’ that was released in 1975. Indeed, he knew me when no one else knew me as a composer. People knew him as a cricket journalist but few knew that his taste in music was superlative.”