Sarfraz’s Indian connection!

The government-run agricultural engineering college in Uttar Pradesh’s Ettawah otherwise maintains a low-profile. Things, however, change every time India plays Pakistan in a game of cricket.

Sarfraz has a maternal uncle Mehboob Hasan in India. And the Pakistan skipper makes it a point to regularly keep in touch with his 'mamu'.   -  Special Arrangement

 

The government-run agricultural engineering college in Uttar Pradesh’s Ettawah otherwise maintains a low-profile. Things, however, change every time India plays Pakistan in a game of cricket.

The same campus suddenly becomes the talking point of the entire town, and that’s all because of a certain Mehboob Hasan!

The 52-year-old, a head-clerk at the college who stays in the staff quarters nearby, at a glimpse would give one an impression that he is just another general college staff. But those who know him personally know about his other identity — as Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed's maternal uncle.

“He has really worked hard, and I am really proud of him. He is very obedient and caring.”

For Sarfraz and his elder brother Shafiq, Mehboob is a dear ‘mamu’ who is passionate about cricket and loves both his nephews. “So what if we stay in two countries, they are my own nephews, so the soft corner remains,” Mehboob tells Sportstar from his Ettawah home on Friday evening.

While both his ‘bhanjas’ make it a point to keep regular contact with him, they are divided when it comes to cricket. Despite Sarfraz leading Pakistan, Mehboob and his family members have always supported India.

“I am an Indian first, so there is no question of supporting Pakistan,” Mehboob says, adding that every time he speaks to Sarfraz over phone, he pulls his leg. “I always tell Sarfraz that India will always win against Pakistan. And everytime, he counters me saying, “iss bar toh zaroor harenge aap log”. That has never happened,” he laughs.

As Mehboob speaks, his son Salman — a college student — too makes it clear that he would root for India when it takes on Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final on Sunday. Though his phone is stuffed with selfies and old photos with brother Sarfraz, Salman says he admires Mahendra Singh Dhoni. “Dhoni is my favourite player, and I will always support my Indian team,” the youngster says.

Sarfraz Ahmed with his brother Salman.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Younger to Sarfraz’s mother Akeela Banu, Mehboob distinctly remembers when his nephews had come to visit them in 1991. “He had come to attend my wedding. Sarfraz was a very naughty then,” Mehboob reminisces.

The ‘mamu’ still finds it difficult to believe that the same naughty kid is now the leader of Pakistan team. “He has really worked hard, and I am really proud of him. He is very obedient and caring,” Mehboob says. He and his family had visited Karachi in 2015, when Sarfraz married Khushbakht. “It was a gala ceremony, and he introduced me with all the cricketers. It felt really nice,” a rather nostalgic Mehboob adds.

The family had even met the Pakistan captain when he was in India last year for the World T20. “We met him in Mohali before the match. It was a great feeling. No matter wherever he is, Sarfraz makes it a point to call me up,” he says with a smile.

Even Safraz’s elder brother Shafiq admits that his brother is very close to the family. “Ever since childhood, he has been a hard working boy. Initially, my parents did not allow him to play cricket, so he made it a point to finish up his studies early so that he could play cricket,” Shafiq tells us from Karachi.

While the family has a printing business, Sarfraz has always been passionate about the game. “Sarfraz made his international debut in 2007, but our father passed away in 2006. But his blessings are always there. In the final, his blessings will always be with Sarfraz,” says a rather emotional Shafiq, who also keeps regular contact with his family members across the border.

Sarfraz’s connection with India does not end with his uncle.

A few members from his father-in-law’s side are also settled in Aligarh and Patna. Sarfraz’s father-in-law Syed Aftab Ali Shah, a former local cricketer and umpire, still remembers those days when the family would meet up in gatherings. “I always want to visit India. May be, sometime later this year, we all will visit our near ones in Aligarh,” Aftab says.

The former cricketer, who represented Pakistan Navy in Grade II tournaments in 1985-86, gets emotional every time Pakistan plays India. “Such matches bring back a lot of memories,” he says with a wry smile.

But his family in Aligarh would cheer for Kohli’s men on Sunday’s mega clash. Having being born and raised here, the younger members of the family can’t even think of supporting any other team.

“We are pure Indians and will only support our home team. For us, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are the real heroes,” Mirza Iqtidar Yusuf, Aftab’s nephew, says.

The BBA student doesn’t even know how close his folks are connected to Aftab’s family. “I just know that I am his (Aftab’s) nephew and Sarfraz is our relative,” Iqtidar says.

He has never been to that part of the world, and has never even met Sarfraz in person. “For me, India is my homeland and when it comes to cricket, there is no question of supporting anyone else, so what if he is from the family,” Iqtidar adds.

Perhaps, this is what India-Pakistan cricketing rivalry is all about. It puts an imaginary line of control even on relationships that knows no boundaries!