Amir Maqsood Hameedi was over the moon when he found out West Indies legend Sir Garfield Sobers was in Karachi.
The 20-year-old, a “die-hard fan” of the West Indian all-rounder, rushed back home to grab his collection of cricket photographs to get them signed by his hero.
It was the winter of 1970 and a ‘Rest of the World’ side was touring Pakistan to play a friendly match to raise funds for the flood victims of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The ‘World XI’ included legends like Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Dennis Amiss, Pat Pocock and Lance Gibbs among others.
For Hameedi, though, there was only one reason to visit the hotel where the tourists were staying: Garry Sobers. In his excitement, he ran to the lobby but froze in the presence of some of the greats. His idol was nowhere in sight.
So he gathered the courage to reach out to one of the players and inquired, “Where can I find Garry Sobers?” The player stared at him in anger and responded, “Young man, call him Mrs Sobers. Don’t call him Garry Sobers.”
Just as Hameedi retreated to a corner in confusion, he spotted a Pakistani player entering the lobby and stopped him in his tracks before narrating what had just transpired.
He was met with much laughter.
It so happened that Sobers was still upstairs in his room and hadn’t come down for drinks with the team as was the tradition.
“Sobers had recently gotten married and now preferred to spend most of his time with his wife,” the Pakistani cricketer told Hameedi.
So, the players had decided to nickname the West Indian great ‘Mrs Sobers’.
The young fan is now 65-year-old, but his memory is still vivid. His study is surrounded with memorabilia representing a passion of over 50 years.
He gazes fondly at his collection of books, photographs, keychains, autographed bats, caps and albums. He beams every time he recalls the past and experiences associated with it.
In Hameedi’s ‘cricket room’, there are books everywhere lining the walls. They number in the thousands and includes classics as well as modern autobiographies.
Practically anything related to cricket is present in his little library; either in the form of books, photographs or his knowledge.
From a very young age, Hameedi’s interaction with cricketers strengthened his love for the game and he did not let go of any opportunity to get his hands on rare ‘gems’.
“I even started collecting photographs from the British Council, as someone who I knew worked there. I would go there and scour through all the action photographs, which once used were of no use.
“When the British Consul General found out about it, he was worried that the collections were going to unworthy people. And despite assurances from the staff there, he decided to test me.
“One day he called me to his office and held up photographs to ask when they were taken and who was pictured. Only after I identified all of them correctly, was he satisfied and impressed.”
Hameedi also had another painstaking hobby in his youth.
“I would visit the offices of the various newspapers in Karachi and dig through the stock of the cricket images local photographers had taken for their organisations. I looked through reel after reel, image after image until my hands started smelling of the liquids used in developing film.”
During the course of his journey, the cricket enthusiast has not only collected many autographs but also forged friendships with his heroes who were impressed by the man's immense knowledge of the sport. Pakistan great Hanif Mohammad is among them while Saeed Ahmed is also a good friend.
Hameedi, the brother of renowned playwright and host Anwar Maqsood, says things have changed quite a bit since then and is one of the reasons he is disappointed by the ways of modern cricket.
“I am dismayed by the commercialisation of cricket. Nowadays cricketers only play for money and are insincere to the fans.
“In past, players like Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood, Saeed Ahmed and others knew what it meant to be a fan and sit in a two-rupee stand under the scorching sun just to watch their favourite cricketers play.
“They used to play for us. You cannot expect the same from cricketers today.”
For an enthusiast like Hameedi, the passion of cricket, though, has not subsided.
“I’m saying this very sincerely, if anyone tries to understand a particular sport and tries to maintain a collection like I have; there is no better pastime than this. You don’t have to wander around. Read these books, gain knowledge from them. I think this is the best hobby.”
Hameedi says he ‘won't be around forever’ and has thus, planned to hand down his ‘treasure of cricket’ to his grandsons, who he says have the same passion for the sport.
He only has one regret — not getting an autograph from Garry Sobers.
— Anas Hussain contributed to this report.