The visit by Japanese wrestler Muhammad Hussain Inoki to Pakistan along with a squad of other Japanese wrestlers, in an event celebrating 60 years of sporting ties between Pakistan and Japan, has brought alive memories of a past in which wrestling was very much a way of life; a sport with its own traditions and culture, deeply rooted in the soil of the subcontinent. The event was organised by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Tourism Department and contests were held between Pakistani and Japanese wrestlers in Lahore and Peshawar. Large crowds turned up at the event and there was a great display of Pakistani culture and tradition which depicted the healthy relationship that has been maintained between the two countries.
The 1976 contest between Inoki and Akram Pehlwan and a few years later, between the former and Akram’s nephew Zubair Alias Jhara, who died tragically young at the age of 29 in 1991, marked, perhaps, the last hurrah for wrestling in the country. Today, few know who holds the once coveted title ‘Rustam-e-Pakistan’. Likewise, unfortunately, many ‘akharas’ or clay pits where bouts took place have been closed down. Famous wrestling clans have faded into obscurity and taken with them the glamour and culture once associated with wrestling. Jhara was, perhaps, the last man to keep this alive. He was known for swimming in the Ravi River dressed in a jacket of iron chains to hone his strength and for running miles carrying the heaviest of weights. His son, who lost his father while very young, has never wrestled seriously.
The entire art form much associated with it has been lost. This should never have been allowed to happen. A single visit by Inoki, who, in the 70s, held legendary status, will not be enough to revive the sport. The successful hosting of the peace festival in one of the most volatile regions of the world proves that people still crave the mundane in a country that needs to hang onto its traditions. More of the same should be offered to the people in the future.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2012.