LEGEND, history, mythology … the bow and arrow has been a part of all. It also has a role in Islamic history as the primary long-range weapon (followed by catapults). Bowmen or archers, be they soldiers or hunters, used to be respected for their mastery, which is seen even today – though it may not be on the battlefield or forest but on the sports ground.
“I can show you several [texts] that tell you about the significance of archery in Islam where so many battles have been fought and won by warriors, all expert archers on horseback,” says Mansoor Shahzad Khan, who serves as secretary general of the Sindh Archery Association that has district bodies at Hyderabad, Larkana, Mirpurkhas and Sukkur.
We are at the archery club at Al Nadi Al Burhani Sports and Recreational Centre grounds where besides archery, horse-riding classes are also under way. The lush green ground ahead used both for cricket and football is being used for football today.
This morning several women in colourful Bohra attire or rida, as it is called, are visiting the centre to inquire about archery classes. Some have toddlers in tow. “They are here to inquire about the archery crash course that we offer,” Mr Khan says, looking disapprovingly at the little children. “The bow and arrow are lethal weapons. I wouldn’t let children under eight handle these,” he says. But the women, it turned out, are asking about classes for themselves.
They eye the other young women there, busy practicing behind a partition for privacy next to the men’s area. These archers are also wearing the rida but of a special kind in which they have zippered slits incorporated into the capes for allowing a better grip of the bow and arrow. By their waist hang their quivers. Having loosed their arrows, they walk up to the target standing against thick hay bales to pull them out and try again.
Not all the women are dressed in traditional attire though. There are the young archer sisters Zaara and Zarnain Khan, who say that they have inherited their interest in archery from their father Mansoor Khan, who smiles proudly. “We have archery practice for two hours in the morning every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 11am,” says Zaara, the older of the two.
“The Pakistan Archery Federation came about in 2010 with its headquarters in Peshawar and the Sindh Archery Association, its affiliated body, started from Karachi two years later after being presented with one bamboo bow and three arrows by the federation which has Lieutenant-General Syed Arif Hasan of the Pakistan Olympic Association as its president and Wisal Mohammad as the secretary,” says Mr Khan.
“This is the biggest of the five archery clubs in the city, the others being the Quaid-i-Azam Archery Academy in F.B. Area, Bullseye in North Karachi, the Karachi Gliding Club in Korangi and the Baden Powell Archery Club in Gulshan-i-Iqbal named after the founder and first chief scout of the Boys Scouts Association,” Mr Khan explains. “We have come a long way from that single bamboo bow and three arrows.”
“The equipment, too, has become more affordable after Chinese bows and arrows were introduced. Now we also have aluminium bows besides the traditional bamboo and wooden bows. The arrows, too, are made of carbon fibre, which are far cheaper than the three we had been given which cost Rs1,500 each,” he says. “Of course they are no match for the best international archery equipment manufacturers Hoyt Archery.”
The shooting range is marked for distances. Targets are placed at different lengths – 10 metres, 20m and 50m. “The proper Olympics-standard outdoor distance is 70m for both men and women, while indoors it is 25m for men and 18m for women,” explains Zaara.
The area where they have been practicing, though, doesn’t extend to 70m. There is no room. “We take it to the ground if we want to shoot at 70m,” Zaara explains, gesturing towards the grassy area where the football match is still on.
As the sport requires technique rather than physical strength, there is no retirement age. But the bows are selected according to a person’s weight and draw length. Before picking up the bows , archers are seen warming up with elastic bands.
“Our archers, including a young woman from Punjab, recently took part in the Asian Games but returned empty-handed – which was expected,” Mr Khan says. On being asked why it was expected, he says that archery in Pakistan is being practiced without government patronage. “We are buying our own equipment and practicing on our own. We need better equipment as well as better coaching to excel in the sport,” he adds.
Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2018