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Pak train brings memories, hope

Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi | January 16, 2004 14:51 IST

Dressed in a navy blue tracksuit, Mohammed Ashraf, 20, was hanging from the door of the Attari Special that arrived at platform number 2 of the Old Delhi railway station on Friday morning.

He was among 65 passengers who had arrived at Attari by the Samjhauta Express on Thursday.

Ashraf jumped out of the train even before it stopped and moved forward to introduce himself.

"Hi, I am Mohammed Ashraf from Lahore. We are from Wohaib Club. We are here to play a hockey tournament," he said. Fifteen other players and four coaches accompanied him.

His team was invited to take part in the annual All India Mahant Raja Sarveshwar Das Hockey Tournament in Raj Nandgaon district in Chhattisgarh.

As the team assembled at one place journalists and cameramen surrounded them.

"I am very excited about this tournament. This is my first visit abroad. I have to prove myself in this tournament. My career depends on this," he said. "If I do well, I will get a chance at the national level."

The Wohaib Club is a big name in Lahore. It has participated in several tournaments in India.

Speaking in Urdu with a Punjabi accent, Ashraf said: "Inshallah we will win. We have been practicing continuously. Above all, it is important to play in a foreign land. We will also get to learn a lot. Prayers of my parents are with me. I will do well."

The smile on Ashraf's face vanished when he was told the tournament got over on January 9. He was silent for a few minutes and then asked: "Are you sure it is over."

The tournament, in which 25 teams from all over the country participated, was played on January 8-9. Ashraf's club was the only international team in the tournament.

The organisers had invited the Wohaib Club about a month ago. But they did not get their visas in time.

Soon, other players also came to know that the tournament was over.

Coach Suhail Furrukh could not believe it: "Oh my God. How did this happen?"

But there was one man who brought hope for them.

Santosh Sharma, 39, had come all the way from Raj Nandgaon to receive them. He carried three bags of roses in one hand and a packet of sweets in the other.

He presented a rose to every player. As he opened the packet of sweets, one of the players picked up a piece and put it in Sharma's mouth.

Introducing himself as one of the organisers of the tournament, Sharma said had been waiting for the players since last night.

The players hugged him one by one. Even the coolies on the platform shared the sweets.

Sharma, who once played hockey for his state, went to Amritsar to receive the Pakistani players on January 5. "They were scheduled to come on January 5 by the bus. But they couldn't get the visa. We were continuously in touch with them and went from pillar to post to get them the visas as early as possible.

"But it didn't work out. They got the visas very late. And when they arrived in India (Attari) on Thursday, the final match was on in our town in Chhattisgarh."

Sharma said the people in his small town were eagerly awaiting the Pakistani team, as it would have been the first international team to play there.

"Many people bought the tickets just to see the Pakistani team. We have a huge stadium. There were lots of celebrations. Our people are crazy about hockey," said Sharma.

"We didn't tell them [the Pakistani team] that the tournament was over because they would have cancelled the trip. We wanted them to come. Our people should see them playing. We have arranged an exhibition match for them with the winning team. It will be played on Sunday," he said.

Sharma arrived in Delhi on Thursday and stayed in a hotel. Though the train was scheduled to arrive in Delhi at 0345 IST Friday, he reached the station at 1900 IST Thursday.

"I thought I will not be able to wake up early in the morning. Also, I am new here...I may not have managed to get transport in the morning," he said.

"The coolies gave me good company. I am happy that the team has finally arrived. I will take them to my town with full honour," he said showing the railway tickets.

Shahina, a resident of old Delhi, and her two sisters were at the platform to receive their mother who was coming from Lahore. They hugged her with tears in their eyes.

"We will celebrate Eid [in February] together," they said in unison.

Shahina's sister is married in Lahore. She delivered a baby boy a few months back. "My mother went there three months back. She was not getting the return bus ticket...we were worried. We thought we will have to celebrate Eid without our mother. But thanks to the train service."

Habiba Badar, 55, was proud of the henna her granddaughter in Karachi had put on her palms. She showed it to all the cameramen.

"We got laddoo (sweets) in Attari and a great welcome. May Allah keep this relationship for ever," she said.


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