The tale of a pehlwaan and a rogue


The culture of ‘tharas’, the street corners in the Walled City where respectable men of the ‘mohalla’ used to sit and play cards, smoke hookas and sometimes indulge in storytelling is no more and the ‘respectable’ men have been replaced by young men dressed as the latest Bollywood movie’s lead characters. They often gawk at young women who pass by, even snatch purses and take to the streets in their ‘karai ki motorcyle’, without cylinders, on every national holiday, be it August 14 or December 25. Being a ‘tharaybaaz’ is also a curse now.
One gets used to hearing stories from men of age of those who used to train to become pehlwaans, how they slept right after the Isha prayers and would wake up at around three in the morning. They would then get their bodies rubbed with oil, and drink over 12 litres of Sardai, a drink made of milk and almonds. After this, the fighting would begin. Strategies would be discussed, faults pointed out and good tactics lauded. And then it would be time for lunch. And that would be roasted goat, one for each pehlwaan. After the afternoon siesta, the pehlwaan would be fed jugs full of desi ghee and only after they were sure that it had been digested would they head to the akhara to begin the day’s last practise session.
Yes, this qualifies as a diet of a giant. But it is pure, and very healthy. This training was no joke. These people fought famous ‘dangals’ in different akharas of the city. Jhara Pehlwan, defeated Hulk Hogan in a scintillating 14 hours match, Rustam-e-Hind Gama Phelwan, earned the title of Rustam-e-Jahan after defeating Zybisko in 1935 in an amazing 40 seconds fight. Gama also defeated a Japanese Hall of Fame wrestler Inoki, and JC Peterson in just 45 seconds.
The famous “akharas” of the area were, Akhara Gama and Imam Baksh on Mohni Road, Akhara Takya Tajey Shah, the Akhara Chanan Qasai, Akhara Nathey Shah inside the walled city, Akhara Nazd Pul Misri Shah, Akhara Chown Baraf Khana and Akhara Halifa Bakhsh.
But, there is an important note on the phelwaan’s character that is always added to any old story. To quote Majid Shaikh on this, “The pehlwan of old was no hoodlum. He was the protector of his ‘mohallah’, and no crime dare take place in his territory. He was a huge loving man who sat outside the milk shop and downed them by the dozen.”
Hence, a 75-year-old pehlwaan was tracked down to hear the story of this strange shift from the local mohalla hero pehlwaan to a purse-snatching rogue. Jamshaid, who has seen it all and lives in Lohari gate, tells Pakistan Today his story.
Well-built, showing no sign of age as he leads us through the streets to his house on the third storey. There he began discussing the fall of pehlwaani and the rise of badmaashi. Never once did he raise his eyes or his volume and it was hard to make out what he was saying. The house was modest and we sat on the ground. Sardai, the same almond and milk drink that the pehwaans of the old drank, was brought for us in clearly the family’s best ceramic cutlery. These people love to talk, and not a lot of questions had to be asked for him to narrate the story, which like all the other stories of Lahore, would soon vanish into the oblivion.
We quote him, first in Punjabi, followed by a rough translation in English.
“Aithay saaday akharay honday san, assi roz subha sawairay uthna, dangal karanay, lokan nou milna. Saday ustadan nay ay gal saday galay paa diti si k lokaan naal changa salook kerna aye, aurtaan di izat kerni aye, tay malay walayan da kheyaal rakhna aye. Majal aye kisi di k kisi aurat wal gandi nazar naal tk vi lay ya kisi utay haath chuk lay. Pehlwani izat daar lokan da paisha si. Hun nai honda ainj. Ay Shabaz tay Nawaz Sharif day dour ich tabahi shuru hue. Aina nay pehlwaana noon karai day qatil bana dita ay. Lafzaan da mane ee badl dita nai.Gogi Butt tai Tiffi Butt,tai Bila Truckanalay da khandaan aina kolon paisa lai kai tai katal kerdai phirdai nai tai naal palwani wee kerdai nai.”
TRANSLATION: Our akharas were located there, we used to wake up early in the morning, wrestle and meet people. Our teachers had imbibed into us the respect for women, care for our neighbours and other people. None of us dared to misbehave with women or beat people up without reason. Pehlwaani was a profession of respectable people. This is not how it is now. The end started during the times of Shahbaz and Nawaz Sharif. They hired pehlwaans to get people killed. They have changed the meaning of the words. People like Gogi Butt, Tiffi Butt and Bila Truckanwala’s family take money from them (the politicians) and commit crimes and also practice pehlwani.
When asked why the pehlwaans had allowed this ‘fall from grace’, Jamsaid said:
“O vi ki karan. Dour hi aaho jaya aay. India ich pehwalana noon paisay dainday naein k o aye kheel khed sakan. Aithay thay hur koi hi vikya paya aye”
TRANSLATION: They can’t help it, the times are such. Indian government funds its pehlwaans so that they can continue the sport. Everyone is sold here. The land for the “Akharas” has become “qabza areas” and the plots have been sold out.
It did not take a lot of research to prove Jamshaid’s claims. The sun sat over the Minto Park Akhara where Jamshaid’s 9-year-old grandson grounded his opponent, a boy of same age, and went to his ustaad to get a pat on his back, hoping that this is not taken away from him.