Au revoir, Mukhtar Sahib!

February 14, 2016

Au revoir, Mukhtar Sahib!

Mukhtar Bhatti, a veteran sports historian, passed away in his sleep in the early hours of February 7. Bhatti Sahib’s name in the annals of Pakistan’s sports journalism is immortal -- he is arguably the greatest historian.

His first work came out in the shape of the book titled ‘20 Years of Sports in Pakistan’ in 1969. It was the most comprehensive record of all sports activities of the country since its birth, with the most accurate facts and feats; Pakistan’s international activities as well as the national circuit.

The book was a great gift for sports lovers, sportspersons and sports journalists. It was studded with pictures of hundreds of sportspersons who had represented Pakistan. Then there were also historic action pictures.

Each discipline, from athletics to wrestling, had a very informative introduction, covering the genesis of the particular discipline, its brief general history as well as Pakistan’s salient achievements.

As years passed by, the need for an updated version was felt. Again, it was Mukhtar Bhatti who took up the task. Since 1990, no less than three books compiled by him kept fulfilling this great need of the country’s sports fraternity: ‘Pakistan Sports (1947-1989)’ in 1990, ‘Golden Jubilee of Pakistan Sports (1947-1997)’ in 1997 and ‘Pakistan Sports-A Gift of the New Century (1947-99)’ in 1999.

The sports activities in Pakistan as well as the country’s international engagements had increased manifold in the latter decades.

In addition, more and more sports gained prominence in the country such as billiards, rowing and yachting. Bhatti added mind sports like bridge and chess as well.

The number of disciplines covered in his books published in the 1990s increased to 26 from 19 in the 1969 book. All this meant that the latter books required a lot more effort; a truly herculean task. But Bhatti Sahib’s passion made it possible.

When the first of these three was compiled, the internet had not come into being. When the latter two were written, the internet had only begun in the country. He sought data from various libraries, newspaper offices, sports associations and individuals.

At times, it was quite frustrating as some gaps in the chronological sequence were feared. But Bhatti Sahib’s perseverance always got him through. He spent years to put down the material in readable form. All this seems to be a task beyond the capability of one individual. Pakistan’s every international engagement in every sport in the country’s first 50 years of existence is covered by him.

This writer has seen his book in the living rooms of sports greats who used it for checking the facts while conversing with friends or media men.

Legendary Brigadier Hameedi, Pakistan’s hockey captain when the country won its first-ever Olympic gold medal in 1960, is one of them.

Even today, when the internet has made it quite easy to get information, the utility of Bhatti’s work hasn’t diminished. You don’t get so much information in such a consolidated form that easily. I am one of the beneficiaries. In fact, many of my well received articles wouldn’t have been possible without it.

Travel was his other love. Bhatti visited more than 25 countries, some of them for sports events.

He also penned down "Lahore to Makkah by Road", and "Pakistan Hotels and Tourism". But sports remained his first love; he ate, drank, slept and breathed sports. Sports stadia were his favourite places.

Bhatti Sahib also wrote "History of Cricket and Hockey" and "Pakistan at Olympic and Asian Games", both of which are quality stuff.

He delved into different genres, and compiled very comprehensive ready reckoners to cricket and hockey world cups. They were in the form of small booklets but carried a package of information. I accompanied him to the hockey World Cup in New Delhi, in 2010. He had brought a number of copies of his ready reckoner which remained very popular with the media persons from different countries covering the World Cup.

Blessed with a remarkable memory, Bhatti was very righty called "the encyclopaedia of sports".

He was still on a project despite being 86 years old: writing a book on the history of Pakistan hockey.

It was all labour of love and never a source of living for Bhatti Sahib. A country’s sports achievements and glorious moments instill national pride in its people and also inspire the future generations.

Mukhtar Bhatti thus performed a great service in preserving the history of Pakistan sports for posterity. His service needs acknowledgement at the highest level. The government should confer some award posthumously.

Au revoir, Mukhtar Sahib!