In the 1980s, when the entire nation was under the spell of legendary Pakistani cricketers such as Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Abdul Qadir, there was one young man who created space for himself in a different sporting arena. The 23-year-old lanky fellow with curly golden hair was an icon in his own right: Sultan Mohammad Khan, aka Sultan Golden, the daredevil.
In 1977, at the age of 18, because of a lack of opportunities, Sultan quit football after playing as a goalkeeper at the district level in Pasni in Balochistan and started thinking about doing something else. Something more interesting. Back in the day, he was an avid movie aficionado and was fascinated by the stunts he watched on the silver screen. He had no idea how those cars and motorbike jumps were performed, so he took it upon himself to learn — and learn he did, though the hard way.
Sultan belonged to a rich family, one of the few people in Pasni who owned cars and tractors at that time. He had seen these vehicles from an early age and learned to drive them when he was 15 years old.
Sultan Mohammad Khan shot to international fame in the 1980s with his daredevil motorcycle and car stunts. Now 60 and still hopeful of attempting new records, he feels let down by governments and lack of recognition
“We used to travel on those vehicles and they were also a mode of entertainment for us,” he says. “My elder brother had bought me a trail bike [commonly known as dirt bike] too.”
Sultan practised stunts on motorbikes for around five years at an abandoned airport in Pasni. He used to go home battered and bruised and lie to his family about meeting with accidents. At the age of 23, however he was finally ready to attempt his first stunt publicly. He took his brothers to the airport and told them about what he was going to do. The stage was all set, but the District Commissioner was not allowing him to perform.
Sultan was undeterred. “The DC’s office was on the second floor of a building,” says Sultan, reminiscing about that day. “I took my dirt bike through the stairs to his office and threatened to jump from there and kill myself if he did not grant [me] the permission. Eventually, he did.”
Sultan performed his first stunt in 1982 at a high school ground, which was not just well appreciated by the local crowd, it also attracted much heat from his father. His father did not like what his son was doing; he thought it was like playing with fire. But, Sultan’s unmatched passion forced him to surrender.
“My father burned my wooden ramps but, eventually, he could not stop me from doing what I loved to do. However, my parents never saw me perform live. They allowed me to do what I was doing but they stayed away and just prayed for my safety.”
Though Sultan’s first was a successful stunt, the mainstream media missed covering it because it was in Balochistan.
Later, he would perform ramp jumps using both cars and motorbikes at Manto Park, Lahore in the presence of the Corps Commander Lahore, their Chief Minister and the Governor Punjab.
He was promised a place at the 1985 Horse and Cattle show at the Fortress Stadium but the event never took place. In 1986, he got an opportunity to perform in front of the UAE President Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, General Ziaul Haq, then chief minister Nawaz Sharif and a huge crowd. Sheikh Zayed was reportedly so pleased to see his stunt that he invited him to the UAE to show his skills there. Unfortunately, despite all the arrangements being made, Sultan never made it there.
In the next year, however, the daredevil decided to up his ante and attempt a Guinness World Record for the longest motorbike ramp jump. He worked tirelessly to get himself, his bike and the ramps ready for the big occasion. He had to be fully confident of what he was going to do. “There is no place for uncertainty, the moment your confidence is shaken, you are gone,” he says.
The venue was once again the Horse and Cattle Show at the Fortress Stadium, Lahore. There were thousands of people who had come to see ‘Golden’ fly. Yes, he had come to be known by the name of Golden by then. He performed the stunt amid loud cheers and chants and managed a 249-feet long jump, beating the previous record by two feet. He approached the Guinness authorities and found his way into the record books.
Unfortunately, it was the only time Sultan Golden’s name ever featured in the Guinness Book of World Records, though he claims that he has broken dozens of Guinness World Records in his career. He even originated the T-Bone Dive in 1994, which is such a dangerous stunt that it is not attempted by many. He drove a car at a high speed and jumped over 25 cars to land straight into the horizontally parked cars. “I broke my neck in the stunt. I was rushed to the hospital immediately after that. The media claimed I was dead without confirming anything. Later they had to clarify that I was alive,” he laughs.
Sultan also invented the burning car jump in 1994 and the reverse jump in 1995, but he could not register any of those as Guiness Records because, surprisingly, he never applied. He believes it is not his responsibility to carry out such formalities; that sports bodies and the government should do it for him and the country.
“I am an illiterate person, I do not know much about how these things work. It is the government’s responsibility to contact the authorities and tell them that our man has broken this record. I had a manager in 1987, so he did it for me,” he says. Still, he calls himself a multiple times world record holder as he claims he has attempted them and has improved on them as well. He presents videos as evidence, though they are not recognised by anybody.
According to Ahmad Amin Bodla, a martial artist with 11 Guinness World Records, the government has to apply for the records if the performer is invited to perform by them. “If an individual is attempting a record on their own, then they should apply for the official registration, whereas if the authorities are asking you to come and break a record in front of a crowd, the responsibility lies on them to get the process done,” he says. “However, often athletes are let down and humiliated by the government and sports bodies as they do not fulfill their promises.”
Today, the 60-year-old Golden, who has gained weight and now sports a beard, is eyeing to achieve another feat: the record for the fastest spell of driving in reverse. He has asked for permission from the authorities to let him attempt it on Ring Road Lahore or give him a chunk of the Motorway for one hour. Moreover, he has asked for a waiver of taxes on the car he wants to import for the record, but they have refused. According to him, he has been offered an opportunity by a few countries such as Qatar to break the record there in return of a hefty amount and other facilities. But he wants to do it in Pakistan for which he is trying to negotiate with the authorities and convince them by promising that the vehicle will not be used for any other purpose other than bringing glory to the country. So far his plea continues to fall on deaf ears.
The man who has risked his life throughout the years, has not actually earned a penny in the process. Instead he has invested heavily on cars, ramps and the paraphernalia needed to perform a single stunt. He feels disheartened with the way Pakistan’s governments have treated him. He expects better from the current Prime Minister Imran Khan, given that he himself was a sportsman. He says he does not ask for any compensation or cash reward, he just wants to be honoured and desires to be seen as an asset of Pakistan.
“I have been promised cash rewards, plots and other benefits, I do not need them. I only want a space where I could train the younger generation,” he says. “I deserve the credit for inventing new records such as the reverse jump. I deserve the credit for being the founder of this sport in the country. I deserve to be honoured by the government. Why do they not recognise my efforts? Are they dumb? Are they deaf? Are they blind? They all are just opportunists.”
Despite his services to the country, the legendary daredevil says he finds it hard to spend the rest of his life at the place he loves. “I urge the government to help me, I cannot fight against the system alone,” he says. A note of bitterness creeps into his voice and he presents a warning. “If I still do not get any attention, I will not have any other option but to leave my beloved motherland.”
The writer tweets @Arslanshkh
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 28th, 2019