Agha Shahrukh: An unsung hero

October 18, 2015

Agha Shahrukh: An unsung hero

Yet another sporting hero of Pakistan has passed away unsung. Agha Shahrukh, who breathed his last a few weeks back, was the only Pakistani to appear at the Olympics in two different sporting disciplines. He was a member of Pakistan’s first-ever hockey team which participated in the 1948 Olympics. In the 1956 Olympics, Shahrukh figured in the cycling competition.

Born in Lahore in 1926, he hailed from a Persian-speaking family of Afghan origin.

Hockey was already a part of the household. One of his uncles Shahzada Yousaf won gold in 1928, when India first competed at the Olympics.

Another uncle, Asif Shahzada, was a member of Afghanistan’s first-ever Olympic hockey team in the 1936 Berlin games.

Hockey was a popular sport in that country and Afghan national side made appearances at the 1948 and 1956 Olympics as well.

Shahrukh and his elder brother Shahzada Khurram excelled at the sport. While he played at the left half position, Khurram was a very solid fullback.

The brothers were very different temperamentally. Khurram was a boisterous character and also a bit shot tempered.

The kid brother’s personality exuded calmness. During those days, there used to be intense competition in sports among the colleges of Punjab which were always looking to rope in the best talent.

The brothers were lured by Khalsa College, Amritsar, whose side included some future greats, including Balbir Singh Dosanjh.

After around three years in Amritsar, they returned to Lahore and got enrolled in the famous Government College, Lahore, where they played in another star-studded hockey side.

The undivided Punjab team led by AIS Dara, who had played for India in 1936 Olympics and later captained Pakistan’s first-ever team in 1948, won India’s national championships in 1947.

Many Punjab players were looking forward to be part of the Indian team for the 1948 Olympics. Meanwhile, the country got divided in 1947. Now, many expected an India-Pakistan final at the London Olympics of 1948.

There was a sub plot as well. Players from the Pakistani side of the Punjab made a vast majority of the country’s hockey team. Likewise, the Indian squad included about half a dozen Punjabis. A Punjab vs Punjab final was anticipated.

But a badly managed and somewhat undisciplined Pakistan side lost in the semi-final and India won gold.

Shahrukh was the vice-captain of the Pakistan side at the 1948 Olympics. The team also included brother Khurram, the first instance in Pakistan hockey of brothers playing in the same team.  Interestingly, their eldest brother Shahzada Saadat represented Afghanistan at the same Olympics.

Pakistan hockey’s troubles continued for some more years with mayhem at the top. Shahrukh couldn’t cope with all this and realised his chances to be a part of the national hockey side for the 1952 Olympics were over. He vowed to be present at the next Olympics, in 1956, in a different sport.  Cycling was his other passion. Shahrukh had won medals during his college days. Now, he fully concentrated on cycling and made his mark.

And Shahrukh’s name in the history of Pakistan’s sports was secured when he represented the country in cycling at the 1956 Olympics.

He was at the peak of his powers on the bike in 1958. In the National Championships, he put an amazing performance winning all the four individual races: 1,000 metres time trial, 1000 metres sprint, 4,000 metres lap race as well as the grueling 117 miles road race.

Shahrukh and indeed Pakistan’s cycling had its finest hour at the 1958 Asian Games of Tokyo.

Three medals (two silver and one bronze) were won, till today, the country’s only cycling success at the Asiad. Shahrukh had two of them. With SM Farooqi as his partner, the pair won the silver medal in the 2,000 metres tandem race. He also won bronze in the individual 1,000 metres sprint.

He continued to shine on the domestic cycling circuit over the next few years before age caught up with him.

Sports remained the dominant part of his life throughout. Shahrukh served as the secretary of Pakistan Cycling Federation for quite some time and also remained affiliated with the sports department of his alma mater, Government College, Lahore.

A banker in his day job, he retired as Assistant Vice President at the National Bank of Pakistan. Later in life, he took up golf and regularly played at the Railways golf club.

In 2005, Shahrukh made a nostalgic journey to India where he met his pre-partition friend, legendary Balbir Singh Doasnajh.

Balbir, a triple Olympic gold medallist, holds the record of most goals in an Olympic hockey final, five in 1952.

The two friends, who played together for three years in the Amritsar Khalsa College team, but appeared for different national teams at the 1948 Olympics, shared nostalgic moments of their youth; visited Chandigarh’s hockey stadium and gave hockey tips to the children.

The stalwarts’ reunion was given good coverage by the Indian media. Balbir Singh remarked, "We didn’t let partition affect our friendship or spirit."

Agha Shahrukh breathed sports till the end. During his last years, he had become very weak and mostly remained confined to his room.

Yet, his daughter said, he secretly practised golf strokes in the room.  As per his wish, he was buried in the garrison grave yard, located close to the garrison golf club in Lahore.

When asked for the reason, Shahrukh had replied, "From my grave, I would like to see golfers play."

He achieved three unique distinctions: he was the only Pakistani sportsman to participate at the Olympics in two different disciplines; he was the only Pakistani to win two cycling medals at the Asian Games; and he was the only Pakistani to win an individual cycling medal at the Asian Games.

Agha Shahrukh: An unsung hero