Hockey legend fades away


‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow’. If I have seen one person living up to this motto, it was Munir Dar, one of the iconic figures of Pakistan hockey. Until lung cancer felled him in September 2010, and ultimately dealt the knock-out blow on June 1, well into his seventies, his cheerfulness and unfailing high spirits attracted a host of friends and admirers who remained steadfast to the end.
Munir had found glory early. By the time he was barely out of his teens he already was an Olympic silver medalist of the 1956 vintage, soon turning it into gold at Rome in 1960 – in between winning the inaugural Asian Games title. Those successes and a fan following that was huge, despite his impressionable age didn’t go to his head. Such was his character that his feet remained on the ground, then as ever.
In that era, when the conveyor belt was churning out class in such abundant quantity, his was a stand out figure. Those who have seen him in action still marvel at how spectacular he was – a rare feat for a defender, for defending against a bunch of fleet-footed forwards bent on rampage is an ugly business. Belonging to a Amritsari Kashmiri family (a lethal combination, that), Munir was a handsome man. His outward demeanour – easygoing yet trying to be one-up on you, full of mirth, he was ever-ready with a joke that fell in the realm of risqué – may not have suggested it, but deep down he was serious, calm, cool, collected and calculating too.
These attributes contributed in making him a player that who was highly accomplished, his anticipation and his speed making his task in defence look remarkably easy. High in caliber and in the classic mould, it was rare indeed that he made a lapse in the business end of the field. And he was a great team man, always on the lookout for the pass that would start the counter-attack and produce a goal. A much needed quality these days, when individual play (clinging on to the ball and playing to the gallery), is one of the myriad reasons for the decline of our hockey in recent years.
On the field he was an asset, but that did not diminish his value off it, for his cheerful temperament, always kept the team’s spirits high, whatever the circumstances. Always oozing with confidence, he at times was wont to tempt fate. Such as in his audacious prediction as a teenager that he would represent Pakistan in the ‘56 Olympic Games, three years ahead of the event. Perhaps he had an uncanny knack of living up to all his tall promises.
When this scribe came into sports journalism in the early 1980s, Brig. Atif and Zaka were considered the brains of Pakistan hockey. Both were immensely successful, and had recently scored big with back-to-back World Cup and Olympic golds. Farooq Mazhar was by far the best all-round sports writer and Munir used to hold court in his office in the secretariat, looking after Punjab Police’s sports and welfare departments. The quartet was close, though such was the hockey politics that soon there was a falling out with Atif.
Munir was happy in those days, Tauqir had just won an Olympic gold, his family’s third – book-ended by these two, Munir’s younger brother Tanvir had a big hand in Pakistan winning the 1968 Games hockey title at Mexico. That gave the family the unique distinction of having a scion in each of the trio of Olympic golds that Pakistan has won so far.
Not as successful in his stints as manager of the national team, Munir raised pretty decent police teams, not just in hockey but in other sports too.
The last Pakistani to have won an Asian gold in athletics – Ghulam Abbas, in 400 metres hurdles at Beijing in 1990 – was one of his spotted talent. Well after his retirement as DlG, Munir kept himself occupied in many sports, and in horse-racing. It is a point of conjecture whether it was his distaste for hockey politics or his later love of horses and the race-track that kept him from returning to hockey and conveying his uncommon knowledge of the game to a new generation of players.
The passing of the hockey legend is a double loss, a loss for the country’s sports fraternity and a loss for the legion of friends whose lives were enriched by his sparkling humour. In these grim times we could certainly do with more men of Munir Dar’s talent and temperament.