How the war was won

Vaqar Ahmed tells the tale of a pivotal hockey match in Rawalpindi's Satellite Town

How the war was won
B- Block Satellite Town, Rawalpindi, was on knife edge. Rumours were flying about and confidences shared in hushed tones about an impending war between humble Chaacha the Dhobi, and mighty Mr. Munaf Ali Shah, owner of Ludhiana Carpet Factory. It was going to be an epic battle to rival the fight between David and Goliath.

The origin of the war was a shared passion of the two protagonists for the game of hockey. Both had their hockey teams and the teams were a true reflection of the owners’ personalities. Chaacha’s team, known as “Young Star”, was a ragtag band of mohalla boys that had been morphed into a formidable team by their owner, coach and manager. Chaacha was thin as a reed and taut as a spring. During the games that his team played at the municipal stadium, the Roman arena of Satellite Town, Chaacha had a forbidding presence as he paced back and forth with great agitation while letting out a stream of invective at the under-performing players of his team. His players were never offended by the cuss words as four of the team members were Chaacha’s own offspring. Chaacha would even put question marks on the parentage of his own children if they made a bad play. As was becoming of a serious coach, Chaacha was always dressed in a tracksuit and smoked like a chimney. The sight of a coach who spewed smoke, paced up and down like a caged lion, and swore like a sailor was enough to the fill the hearts of the opposing team with fear of the Young Star.

Mr. Munaf held his own team Jinnah Eleven in great esteem. Named after the founder of Pakistan, the team comprised of the workers at his carpet factory. The team even had some old coach who was reputed to have played for the Rawalpindi Team in his youth. The team was provided a daily ration of a liter of milk and goat meat cooked in ghee to keep them fit and strong. Equipped with new hockey sticks and spanking new uniforms purchased from Lords Sports, the city’s premier sporting goods shop, the team had a professional look about it. On the other hand, Young Star had to do with kits purchased from the secondhand clothing market. These multicoloured uniforms were then dyed by Chaacha himself to the team colours of a black short and green shirt. A trip to the used shoe shops fitted the team with imported Adidas and Puma footwear: a little worse for wear, but in reasonable working condition.

A bride watched the game intently

It was well known that Mr. Munaf was contemptuous of Chaacha and his team. One day, while sitting outside his store, Mr. Munaf was overheard calling the team Dung Star. When the Urdu translation of the word ‘dung’ reached Chaacha through his network of spies in the Satellite Town hockey world, he was livid. He immediately drafted a written challenge to Mr. Munaf that was hand-delivered by one of his own sons. The boy returned with a rather rude reply from Mr. Munaf: “Your challenge has been duly received and accepted. Choose the day, Mr. Dhobi. And remember, you will be washing your shalwar after the match is over!”

It was agreed through trusted intermediaries that the match would take place after the following Friday prayers.

On the day of the match, the battle lines were clearly drawn. The supporters of Young Star had turned up in large numbers and had laid claim to the eastern side of the field. Afzal, aka Pattay, one of the numerous offspring of Chaudhry Aslam Khan, was leading the sloganeering. Family planning not something in vogue in the B- Block, an entourage of eighteen cheerleaders had turned up from just three households. The eight sons of Mr. Shami of Shami Glass House, a staunch supporter of Young Star, were all there.

The Jinnah Eleven, on the other hand, had utilised two megaphones to amplify the cheering from their smaller number of supporters – mainly the factory workers who had turned up to support their colleagues. A carpet had been laid out on their side of the field and a comfortable chair placed for Mr. Munaf, who had arrived to great fanfare with his cohorts.

The referee was Ali Asghar, the scrawny, ill-tempered owner of the local ration depot. He was reputed to have never played hockey but was considered an authority on refereeing. Chaacha had raised some questions about his impartiality since a Ludhiana Carpet House carpet was seen in his house by one of Chaacha’s boys as he was delivering the laundry.

The referee blew the whistle and the match was on.

It was a hard fought match. Jinnah Eleven tried to play a physical game to capitalise on their milk- and meat-developed bodies but the scrawny lads of Young Star were quicker on their feet. Chaacha’s cuss words and threats to his team also proved motivational, as the prospect of facing his wrath was nothing to relish. Chaacha was a bundle of nerves that day and it was a wonder that he did not have a cardiac arrest.

The teams were well matched and at the end of regulation time, the game was goal less. So it was down to the five penalty shots for each team. The Jinnah Eleven goalkeeper had shown excellent performance during the game and had stopped some very good attempts at the goal. The smart money was on Mr. Munaf’s boys.

The first shot taken by a Jinnah player was completely off the mark and flew over the goal post. Pattay and his gang raised some soul stirring slogans. Unfortunately, the Young Star striker fared no better and pushed the ball wide of the goal. Chaacha let out a string of profanities against the striker who happened to be one of his sons. The goalkeepers from both sides did well to stop the next three shots. So it was down to the last attempt. The Jinnah player sent a real zinger down to the left but the goalie leapt to his right and a loud cheer went up in the Ludhiana Carpet camp. But it died down as soon as it had started –the ball struck the goal post and flew away from the goal line.
It was down to the last penalty push. Chaacha's oldest son was taking the shot. Just as he approached the ball, a young man took off from the sidelines and flew like a missile into the ground

So it was down to the last penalty push. Chaacha’s oldest son was taking the shot. Just as he approached the ball, a young man took off from the sidelines and flew like a missile into the ground. It was Jooji, Mr. Shami’s son number eight. There was a great furor. Asghar Ali blew the whistle as loud as he could and tried to stop the boy from entering the field. The Jinnah Eleven supporters also jumped up in protest but the nimble boy dodged the referee, reached the goalie, whispered something in his ear and quickly sprinted off. After some hot exchanges, peace was returned to the field. Chaacha’s son took a good look at the ball and into the eyes of the goalkeeper. Silence fell over the stadium. Even the mercurial Chaacha froze. The boy sent in a weak shot towards the right goalpost. Given the goalie’s agility and skill shown earlier on the game he surprisingly dived in the other direction. Young Star had triumphed! After that it was mayhem of a kind never before witnessed at the municipal stadium. It even eclipsed the uproar that had followed the six sixes in a row in a recent cricket match by the mysterious Mr. Guts.

All the Young Star players were hoisted over the shoulders of their ecstatic supporters and the procession, led by Chaacha, marched off to the nearby Amritsari sweets for a celebration.

A small dark cloud however hovered over the joyous celebrations: Why had the goalkeeper failed to stop such a weak shot? What were the magic words that Jooji had whispered in the ears of the goalie? The questions became the talk of Satellite Town B-Block. Some say it spread as far as D and E Blocks. The answer was never revealed by the two protagonists.

Two weeks after the historic match a wedding took place in the mohalla where Mr. Shami lived.  The groom was none other than the goalkeeper of the Jinnah Eleven squad who had failed to stop the last penalty shot. The bride was Mr. Shami’s daughter Rubina. The marriage ceremony went off brilliantly. Chaacha and all the players of Young Star were present. The event was remembered for years as it was the first time in the history of B- Block that the guests at a marriage could consume as many bottled cold drinks as they wished.

It was revealed much later that Rubina, born after her eight brothers, had a great fondness for the game of hockey. While she was never allowed to play in the field, she used a hockey stick at home to a great effect to defend against her eight brothers, all rascals of the highest order. At the time of the hockey game, her marriage to the goalkeeper had already been settled. Rubina was watching the game from her roof, that had a grand view of the stadium. Seeing the critical nature of the situation when the final penalty shot was to be taken, she had written a message to the goalkeeper husband-to-be, crumpled it into a ball and thrown it to Jooji on the side line of the ground. He was to convey the message urgently; a dire warning to the goalie that if he stopped the ball, she would make him wait one week after the marriage before allowing him to get into her bed.

Rubina, a livewire of a girl, went on to produce her own eight boys and a girl. A new team called Sheesh Mahal Eleven was formed. The goalkeeper husband became the coach. The first time the team walked into the field, the spectators were shocked to see that the goalkeeper was none other than Rubina’s daughter. Thus the legend of the Hockey Queen of Satellite Town was born. But that is another story.