Recently, myself, my family and a large world associated with cricket and sports bore a great loss. A loss too big to be described in its multiple dimensions. Yes, I am talking of Gul Hameed Bhatti – a brother (and what a brother he was), a father and not to mention what a great sports analyst. I have written much about him as I knew him in my earlier blog (Gul Hameed Bhatti – A Man Born for Cricket) and my website under the same caption. But I write this post as my last tribute to this great man I knew since my childhood.
He was a man of great muscles – he could endure pain but would still laugh and make others laugh too. He could go on walking with a nail in his shoe for days without complaining and without getting it repaired. He battled with cancer a few years back and defeated it. But from end last year on, he got new enemies (I wonder why there were enemies for a humble, humane and a jolly person like Gul). This time it was diabetes and his heart. Both cornered him to an extent that a stage came when was unable to crack jokes to his friends and relatives as he could not speak. One could notice extreme despair in his eyes when he wanted to speak but could not. And slowly and gradually he was being defeated despite his stubborn stand and resistance.
I could feel despair when I would talk to his son Kamil or his daughter in law Samra. But I thought that in the end hew would finally win and come home laughing. Once he came back from hospital and Samra sent me an SMS, “The bald eagle is back in the nest.” That was very reassuring, but for a while only as he was again back in the hospital in much serious condition. On Thursday 4 February, the SMS from Smara seemed a last call. She wrote, “ His systems are really down. Gasping for breath in coma since yesterday. If you want to say goodbye or see him before he leaves us, now is the time. Otherwise please pray from there.” The text was hair raising so I, who had gone to Lahore and reached just around noon, rushed to airport for the tickets for me and my family. I got the tickets for next day at six in the evening, but Gul couldn’t wait that long. And while still at the airport, the call that I never wanted to receive, finally came announcing his departure. The bird had finally flown to his distant heavenly abode.
In the meantime I got my tickets for the morning flight and when next day I reached his house, I saw him resting peacefully, draped in his heavily attire. I haven’t cried for years, but that day I could not resist crying. A man who always made us laugh, was making us weep instead. I wish he could live on. He wasn’t that old to die – just 61 years. And on his funeral, people from all walks of life flocked to bid him farewell. I am specially grateful to Javed Jabbar, Riaz A Mansuri and Islahuddin who condoled with me. And many whom I didn’t knew came and hugged me, and told me how great GHB was. My heart continued to cry as his funeral procession reached the Defence graveyard and when he was finally laid to rest. He then disappeared as mother earth embraced this great man forever.
So this was the life journey of man, born in 1948 (8th September 1948 to be exact as against some writers who have shown his year of birth as 1947). He wanted to be a cricketer, but our father wanted him to be a doctor. So he played cricket on papers, filled God knows how many copies in his own hand (I have requested his son to find at least one of those so that I could show to the world the marvel of his genius when he was still in his teens). He couldn’t become a doctor, so our mother wanted him to be a pilot. He reluctantly obeyed and flew for 45 hours but before his solo, he got out and finally got admission in journalism in the Punjab University - a discipline that was close to his passion of writing. It was from here that his journey as one of the best cricket analysts began. He started writing from Lahore for the Cricketer, till he finally bade farewell to Lahore forever and went to Karachi to supervise the magazine, then the only English language cricket magazine in the country. He rose to prominence in sports edititoring till his finger finally slipped off from his computer. I still remember one of his interviews that was published in the "Star" decades ago which described him as a "one finger journalist" as he typed with his index finger only on his portable typewriter.
But that is not all his life was. He was also a good human, a loving brother, a fatherly father and a friend of the friends. A jolly good man who was centre of attraction wherever he was. Condoling the death of Gul, a school days friend of mine, Farhat Qayyum Naz (now settled in Australia) wrote in his e-mail to me:
"It took me back to the time when I used to come to your house during and after our school days. Gul Bhai's beautiful smile and shiny eyes were some of the profound memories I have of that time. Also, from time to time, I used to read his sports related articles on the internet. Gul Bhai's passing away has saddened us all but if you look at his achievements and contribution to journalism and cricket you realise how meaningful and glorious inning he had.Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.May Gul Bhai rest in peace." Ameen
A memorable photo of smiling Gul while studying in the Government College, Lahore
I never knew this post would bring to forth friends of Gul Bhai I once knew. I received a mail from Gul Bhai's college days friend Pervaiz, who remembers Gul Bhai in his own words. In the mail he writes"
"Dear Jalal Bhai, Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Pervaiz - Pervaiz Munir Alvi. I am a friend of your brother Gul. We were classmates and friends at Government College Lahore. I along with other friends used to visit your home at Iqbal Street off Macleod Road. During those visits I had met you and your other brothers. I know that was a long time ago, but my memories of Gul are as fresh as yesterday. He was hell of a guy and I am sad that he is no longer with us. We remained in touch during seventies and eighties and then we both got busy in the drudgeries of our respective lives, but I always got his news through our common friends. And now our common friends have delivered the sad news of his premature departure. Please accept my condolences. May God bless his soul. Ameen. I have few pictures of Gul from our student days. I will be happy to share them with you. And in case you are wondering about my connection with Shirazi Bhai. Well, let me say that I am only happy to have met him. We will talk more later. Again. Gul will be with us as long we live. With regards. Pervaiz."(Thank you Pervaiz Bhai for remembering Gul Bhai in so many beautiful words and sending the memorable photos. I have displayed one above and rest are in my facebook album).
I am also grateful to Ms Asma Barlas (presently Professor of Politics and Director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity Ithaca College and Gul Bhai's colleague at PU Department of Journalism) to respond to my e-mail to her to share our grief. She writes:
"Dear Mr. Bhatti, I am terribly saddened to hear of Gul Hameed's death and pray that God will grant him paradise. Thank you so much for letting me know and also for sending me the link to your blog. I was glad to see the pictures of his children and hope that they will help to keep his memory alive. He was such a warm and caring person with a terrific sense of humor and I'm sure all of you will miss him sorely."
But now only his memories remain. I pray the departed soul to be blessed and may he rest in eternal peace for ever. Ameen. And Gul Bhai, rest assured we really loved you and you will always stay in our hearts forever. Adios Big Bird……..