Former Indian captain Kapil Dev Nikhanj was unquestionably one of the greatest all-rounders of the game. Having made his Test debut against Pakistan at Faisalabad in 1978 as a 19-year-old medium-pace bowler he continued to progress with both ball and bat to compete at equal level with his contemporaries like Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee to become a legendary cricketer of our time.

Winning the 1983 World Cup against the West Indies at Lords’ no doubt was the crowning moment for him and his country besides his other achievements which followed.

Stories about Kapil, the folk hero of Indian cricket, abound but not like the one I discovered at Old Trafford Test during the present India tour of England where he was a constant presence as a cricket analyst and commentator for a TV channel.

We met regularly during the breaks for lunch and tea and reminisced on various events of the past and present, talking about the game and places, when on one of the match day, during the fourth Test, I casually mentioned the touching story of my going back to my place of birth in India for the first time from Pakistan.

Kapil then opened up to reveal that his story was not much different.

His family had migrated after partition from Montgomery which is now Sahiwal in Pakistan to India and that he had similar experience as mine when he came as a member of the Indian team to Pakistan in 1978.

“My mother Raj Kumari was born in Pakpattan, in the town of the Sufi saint Baba Farid and father Ram Lal Nikhanj was from Dipalpur not far from Pakpattan. And they lived in Shah Yakka nearby which is now in Okara district Pakistan,” Kapil said.

“My four sisters were born there before partition and my two brothers in Fazilka, where we moved after the partition before moving on to Chandigarh, where I was born, grew up, got my education and learnt the game,” he added.

“One of my uncles did not go to India and remained in what is now Pakistan because he was in love with a Muslim girl whom he married and took their family name,” Kapil recalled.

As he talked to me, the producer of the TV channel, he was commenting on, came up and interrupted, reminding Kapil that in seconds he will have to be on the air.

The story remained incomplete. Kapil left promising me to return in another break to outpour his sentiments which he did after a while.

“Qamar Bhai, here I am again and I must finish this before I go for another stint on the mike,” he said.

Kapil continued, “As luck would have it, I was picked to tour Pakistan with the Indian team and my mother told me to make sure to visit Shah Yakka village near Pakpattan where I did go escorted by Pakistan security men.

“My mother also told me that ours was the only ‘Pakka’ (concrete) house in the village with a rectangular four wall around it where my father and his brothers lived with their families.

“I found the place and disclosed to the residents who I was and who my father and mother were. It was a moving experience as the elders of Shah Yakka gathered and welcomed me and told me stories of my father and his brothers. They also remembered my mother. They told me that my father was ‘Shararti’ of the lot and like to go hunting.

“It was the most moving moment for me listening from the locals about my parents and the family. I was overcome by emotions as they showered their hospitality on me, showing such warmth and love that they had for my parents and family.

“My father in India spoke a different kind of Punjabi than people spoke in Chandigarh and only when I was in my village in Pakistan and listened to the local people that I realised that my father and mother spoke the way people were speaking Punjabi in Sahiwal and Pakpattan region.

“I fail to understand why people change the names. My mother will always mention the name Montgomery and after Pakistan it became Sahiwal. I think we should have sense of history and respect the legacy that we have inherited. In India, Madras has become Chennai, Bombay as Mumbai and now Calcutta as Kolkata. I do not like this. I wish the names had remained the way they were.”

One couldn’t agree more about what he said about respecting the legacy. There are many others around us too who have similar stories to tell but not many come out in the open as did Kapil Dev, the star of India.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2014

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