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Man with the golden arms

Updated May 01, 2014

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Ghotki Taluka is a dusty town in the northern most districts of the Sindh province. The majority of the people settled here are indigenous Sindhis, but the town also boasts of having a sizeable Mohajir (Urdu-speakers), Baloch, Pakhtun and Punjabi settler population.

Just like the overall Ghotki District, Ghotki Taluka too, is largely an industrial town, known for having a number of manufacturing and production plants and factories.

In the early and mid-1980s, however, Ghotki became famous for something that had absolutely nothing to do with factories.

Many Pakistanis began noticing the following text signed behind colourfully painted and decorated trucks and lorries:

Kafeel Bhai Ghotki Wally – Right Arm Left Arm Spin Bowler.

The frequency with which these words began to appear on trucks and lorries on the roads of Pakistan was such that many Pakistani motorists became curious enough to actually stop and ask truck drivers, who on earth this Kafeel Bhai was (and what the heck was a right arm left arm spin bowler)?

The funny thing is that (initially) many drivers when asked didn’t even know that the mentioned text had been placed at the bottom of the multi-coloured images and pictures painted behind their trucks.

When some regional Sindhi newspapers investigated the phenomenon, they discovered that Kafeel Bhai was a young cricket enthusiast and a gifted painter who came from a humble, working-class background in Ghotki.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he had fancied himself to be the only bowler in the cricketing world who was able to bowl a devastating off-spin with his right arm and an equally devastating leg-spin from his left.

He did manage to get a place in a few club sides in Ghotki where he tried to prove his uniqueness on the city’s grubby cricket grounds. Though he actually could bowl from both arms, the ball would hardly ever turn and he was usually taken to the cleaners by the batsmen.

Blaming his fate as a bowler on the dead wickets of Ghotki, he decided to try his luck on the cricket grounds of Sindh’s sprawling and cosmopolitan capital, Karachi.

In Karachi, he couldn’t even bag a place in a modest club side and he returned to Ghotki heartbroken and convinced that the Pakistan Cricket Board couldn’t understand his unique cricketing abilities.

In Ghotki, Kafeel Bhai began to spend his time hanging out at the small tea stalls and eateries (made from dry mud and palm tree leaves) near the petrol stations on the highway that ran across Ghotki.

These stalls and eateries were mostly frequented by truck drivers who were driving their trucks to and from Karachi (in the south) all the way to Peshawar (in the north), carrying industrial goods, wheat, sugarcane, etc.

 A tea stall (for truckers) in a small town in the north of the Sindh province.
A tea stall (for truckers) in a small town in the north of the Sindh province.

Though many of these trucks had all kinds of images painted on them, Kafeel Bhai began to spot trucks that didn’t, and offered to paint them. He only asked the drivers to pay for the paints and brushes required for the job.

The drivers loved his work that mostly included painted images of flying falcons, famous Pakistani vocalist, Madam Noor Jehan, horses, and Lady Diana (!), but what they didn’t know was that Kafeel Bhai was signing off his work as ‘Kafeel Bhai Ghotki Wallay – right arm left arm spin bowler.’

Even when (in 1987) some mainstream Urdu weeklies in Karachi began running a feature or two on Kafeel Bhai, and truck, van and lorry drivers now insisted that he put his name/signature line on their vehicles, Kafeel Bhai refused to accept any money for his work. Instead he’d just ask for some paint, brushes and maybe a cup of tea at one of the tea stalls where he would spend his days and evenings.

By then, Kafeel Bhai had already expanded his signature line that now read: ‘Mashoor-e-zamana spin bowler, Kafeel Bhai koh salam’ (Greetings to the world famous spin bowler, Kafeel Bhai).

But what did he do for a living? Nothing. His lunch and dinners were usually paid for by the truck and lorry drivers wanting him to paint their vehicles.

Kafeel Bhai’s ‘fame’ reached a peak in 1992 when a French art magazine published some pictures of his ‘truck art.’ A group of French men and women also came to Ghotki for a visit. They offered to take Kafeel Bhai to France where they wanted him to paint over some trucks and public buses in Paris.

Kafeel Bhai agreed, but only on one condition: He will be allowed to put his signature lines(s) on every French truck and bus that he would paint.

His French patrons responded that this they could not guarantee but he would be paid well. Hearing this, Kafeel Bhai turned down the offer!

Kafeel Bhai had now entered his mid-30s and one fine day simply stopped painting.

After borrowing some money from one of his many fans, he set up a small furniture shop. After the shop began to turn up a small profit, he finally decided to get married.

Then in the early 2000s, he suddenly sold his shop, packed his bags and moved to Karachi with his wife.

Nobody is quite sure where in Karachi he lives or what he does for a living. Kafeel Bahi just decided to vanish and so did his images and signature lines on trucks.


Sources:

Tale of a tragic hero. Salman Rashid (Daily Times, 23 October, 2008).
Rori to Bhawalpur. Owais Mughal.
Kafeel Bhai Kon?. (Daily Hilal Pakistan, 7 February, 1986).