We, cadets of PAF Public School Lower Topa, Murree Hills, were minding our daily routines when we heard the distinct high frequency whine of a jet engine and the fluttering of helicopter rotors. It was something unusual, in fact, the first time we saw a helicopter make a circuit over Lower Topa. All hell broke loose as we realized that it was going to make a landing in our games field. We started running downhill towards the field and by the time we reached the field, it had landed and its rotors were winding down. I remember, Mr. Karim, our Urdu teacher and the acting principal being cajoled by the other teachers to go down the last 50 or so steps to the games field to receive the dignitary. However the dignitary, a thin, wiry and a smart man in civvies, with an air of authority ,sprang out of the helicopter along with a uniformed Group Captain, and started up the steep steps of the games field to meet midway with our rolly polly Mr Karim. Evryone recognized him. No protocol needed for man with a mission, the Commander –in- Chief of Pakistan Air Force, Air Marshal Nur Khan. We all, including the teachers, were surprised and over awed by the presence of Nur Khan, the legendary leader of PAF amongst us. By then, a long and a haphazard lot of cadets, staff, and teachers had lined the route all the way to the top of the hill. All we could think of doing was come to attention and respectfully say “Assalam mu alaikum” as he passed by us.
I quickly followed behind the entourage of four, trying to figure out as to what the hell was happening, when the Group Captain asked me as to which house I was in. “Babar House Sir”, I replied. So you must know Naseer,my nephew. I said “Yes, he is my friend and my house mate”. We chatted a while about games, extracurricular activities etc. All this while, we were climbing the road to the top. I realized that he was breathless but Nur Khan seemed impervious to the altitude As he scurried to catch up with his boss, the last sentence he spoke was” You speak much better English than Naseer.” Now this was the first time in my life that someone had complimented me on my spoken English. I was frankly surprised as Naseer was always ahead of me in academics. However I never ever mentioned his uncle’s impression about him to him. He was my friend.
Now dear readers, PAF Lower Topa is situated at 6700+ feet and anyone who is not used to a daily rigorous exercise in the plains would definitely feel the pressure on his lungs at this height. The Air Chief was definitely fitter than his PSO.
However, we were still puzzled by his presence in Lower Topa. House Captains, House Master and the staff slowly regained the composure and discipline of a semi –Military school and we were told to mind our businesses and restrict our movements, curiosity, and whispering etc. We were restricted to the dorms and common rooms. A few hours later, we could hear the helicopter take-off and head back to the plains of Rawalpindi.
We found out that C-In-C and the President Pakistan Hockey Federation had come to survey and inspect first hand if Lower Topa was a fit place to be the training camp for Pakistan hockey team that was to leave for Mexico Olympics. Mexico city-7350 and Lower Topa 6750 Feet (above sea level).
Mission-To beat the arch rival India and win back “The Olympic Gold Medal” from them which we had lost to them in 1964. Ah, the glory of sports.
A week or so the selected Olympians arrived and were billeted in Tipu Sultan house. They took over the games field and we were asked to stay away and out of their noses. But how could that be. Our sporting legends like Hatif, Tariq Aziz, Tariq Niazi, Asad Malik, Tanvir Dar, Khalid Mahmood , to name a few, were amongst us and yes the balding Goal Keeper, Zakir Hussain, the Joker of the team , kept the camp animated. Rashid Junior,the future legend in making was then the kidoo of the team.
Sometimes we would go down to the field to watch them practice. Hatif was a terror commander, when angry or frustrated his booming voice could be heard miles away. In their green track suits they would make long runs 10s of miles a day around the hills, followed by rigorous practice on the field. No fancy gyms. Pure down to earth hard work, sweat and a spirit to win the Gold back.
I remember one evening an impromptu gathering of the Pakistani Olympic team and we Topian cadets. They were standing as a group in front of Tipu Sultan House and us cadets on the road just below the house. We got into a competition with them singing national songs which were popularized after the 65 Indo-Pak war and Punjabi Tappas. They would sing one and we would sing back another like a ‘Bait Bazzi”. I still remember one ’O Badal aa gaye wich khareyan de baghan’; Mesmerizing ,the way ZAKA and Tariq Niazi led that one.
One day, our school hockey team challenged them for a match. Mr Zafar,our drawing teacher was in his own time a known hockey player, became part of our team. They drubbed us thoroughly but one of our boys, the center forward, was able to sneak a goal against the mighty Pakistani team and the whole college went into ruptures. Zakir shook his hand and said that he could become an Olympian one day. I wondered then as to how could a school boy break through the defenses of Tariq Aziz and co. Now I know better. It was to encourage a talented young boy and to motivate each one of us to reach for the sky.
Pakistan went on to win the GOLD at Mexico. Anyone interested to read the full account should read Gul Hameed’s article at; http://www.geosuper.tv/articles.asp?id=348
Pakistan hockey has lost glory and the oomph. Why, like everything else, leadership is gone. A look at Akhtar Rasool’s ever expanding girth tells the story. Lamentably, it is no more about the glory of sports, the country and honour.
Later,Fl Lt Naseer , God Bless him ,had a mid air collision over PAF Smungli,Quetta. He crashed right in front of his wife as she watched a four shipper of FT 5s take – off from the hillside Officers ‘Mess overlooking the airfield. Life is so unpredictable.