By Kamran Rehmat
Dard-e-dil ke vaste paida kiya insan ko
Varna taa.at ke liye kuchh kam na the karr-o-bayañ
(The reason for the creation of humanity is to have
compassion Else, for obedience, the angels did not have a match)
These verses of Khwaja Mir Dard, one of the classic Urdu poets, depict a Sufi strand of thought whose latest proponent is someone who has turned it into a mantra.
Misbah-ul-Haq Khan Niazi, Pakistan’s iconic former cricket captain, treads remarkably lightly. It’s almost as if fame never touched him. During the course of an interview, and engaging interaction spread over a day’s stay in Doha, I repeatedly asked him about why he hadn’t still penned an autobiography and its importance in the context of Pakistan cricket. Each time, he shied away from even acknowledging his hallowed rank as the country’s most successful Test captain. He just does not seem to take it seriously!
But should one even be surprised? That is just signature Misbah for those in the know. Humble and down-to-earth to a fault, the former sheet anchor of Pakistan cricket, who, won over cricket fans and connoisseurs the world over with his exemplary sportsmanship and fair play as well as defying the years with his prowess on the field is now eyeing the innings of his life — away from the greens.
After retiring from international cricket two years ago, he has more recently begun a second notable innings. He has turned into a ‘full time’ philanthropist by joining the Pakistan Children’s Heart Foundation (PCHF) as its director — and swiftly becoming its face.
Initially, Misbah and his cricket-loving wife Uzma Khan had set upon the idea of a hospital in his hometown Mianwali. But later he came around to supporting the PCHF instead because it was “a much bigger cause and expanded the horizons from a local district capital to the entire country”.
Excerpts from the interview.
Please tell us about your association with the PHF: how did this come about?
It was about six or seven months ago that I met Farhan Ahmad, who is the founder of PCHF, and who set up the foundation after enduring a personal tragedy in 2012 when he lost his daughter to a congenital heart condition.
Actually, the daughter of one of my close friends had the disease by birth and I saw him go through turmoil, moving from one place to another and then another trying to get her treated. During the course of this struggle he came across Farhan, who together with his team helped him. That’s how I got to know about the issue in detail and the enormity of the ordeal faced by families, especially those who are poor. It was then that I decided to chip in. I felt that it is our social responsibility: that if we can use our fame and whatever we achieved for a humanitarian cause we should. We owe much to this country. This is our next generation we’re talking about. It is essentially about our future as a nation.
The foundation has helped conduct approximately 1,500 surgeries on children with the same disease over this time successfully. That having said, more recently we reached a conclusion that in order to go forward we need a centre of excellence and build capacity. At present, we only have eight surgeons who specialise in the field, which obviously is not enough to meet the enormous challenges — remember, some 50,000 children are born with the condition every year in Pakistan. Mind you, out of these, approximately 20,000 are in need of immediate surgery.
Currently, we can operate on only 4,000 of these in terms of capacity. Once we have the centre, we will be in a reasonable position to meet the future challenges. We have been going around at home and abroad with the same awareness drive and to get entrepreneurs to join the cause and help build this centre of excellence.
We have the example of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital (SKMCH) before us: as with congenital heart disease, we had a huge problem with cancer in Pakistan before it was established. While SKMCH (in or by itself) may not have rooted out the menace, at least there is a centre of excellence where you can go to for help. That’s what our vision is. The project time is two and a half years, but we’re hopeful of making it (before then). Let’s see.
How do you differentiate between your first innings (cricket) and second (philanthropy). And what has been more fulfilling?
I always say that the first innings is (essentially) about yourself: how you spend your life in this world is YOUR call — your (chosen) profession, your earning, your fame. So the first innings was all about me!
But when you introspect — as a Muslim — why we’re here; we have a life after this, so we need to prepare for it. If you have, you know that this second life is more important than the first one. This was a
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part of self-realisation that I went through. The second innings is definitely more important than the first one.
Is philanthropy for everyone? What would you advise the average Joe do to be a responsible citizen?
Yes. We need to do this. Personally, I’m grateful to Allah that I got this opportunity and came across Farhan. It’s a blessing from Allah. I think I can do something for myself (smiles) if I’m doing something for others. It’s a social and religious responsibility and I think anyone with power and fame should use it for the benefit of those in need.
Everyone can do this. The whole concept of humanity — and basically, it is at the heart of Islam — is that you look to help others and you always think about their welfare. I think we need to understand this philosophy. You don’t need to be rich to help others; you can join such causes in different ways. You can volunteer to do a lot of things. A good intention is paramount.
What have you planned for the foreseeable future; would you be amenable to an offer for an official role in Pakistan cricket?
It’s a difficult question. They (the Pakistan Cricket Board) have been sounding out various roles. Currently, though it’s also about my personal life. As well as pursuing the PCHF project, I also have kids, who, at a certain age, need to have parents by their side. They have missed quite a bit when I was busy playing for Pakistan. If I were to take up a role, it would mean I’d have to be away from them again because coaching is a full time job and I’ve already been away for 15-16 years playing cricket. They haven’t seen me at home for a long, long time. So, I’m taking some time off, for now. Let’s see what the future holds.
Your better half was a regular presence in the latter part of your cricketing career. How much of an influence has she been in your second innings?
Uzma is always a big support. The very reason that I’m still actively involved with the game — I played the Pakistan Super League Edition 4 recently — is because she has insisted that I continue playing because “you’re still fit, you can still perform”. She also feels that playing is a better option than sitting out in terms of sharing experiences with the (younger) guys. I’m blessed that my family — wife and kids — are avid followers of the game and support me and our teams. How much this means to me cannot be explained in words. Usually families elsewhere (in Pakistan) are not that involved (smiles).
Reportedly, your son has taken after you in cricket. Does he have the same passion and drive? Also, will you support your daughter making her own career choices?
My son (Faham ul Haq) is luckier than me and when you’re lucky, you tend to be a bit lazy (smiles). I had to go through a lot before making the cut. But he is still very young. He is doing well — he was recently the ‘Man of the Match’ in the semis of an Under-13 tournament, got some runs and took wickets in the final, too, for Lahore. Faham (an opening batsman who also bowls off-spin) was also one of the 30 top performers in a camp for Under-13 at the national academy recently. But talking of the future, it’s long way off. In sport, you need a lot of commitment, hard work, discipline and dedication. At the moment, he’s doing well, but I haven’t put any pressure on him. I encourage him to also play other sports — he is also good at football. But the first priority is for him to complete his education. It is essential for him to learn the Qur’an and become a good human being. After that, it is up to him whether he wants to pursue — cricket, football or whatever he aspires to do.
Yes. The main goal in life as a parent is to see your children become good human beings. That is important. The first priority is for them to complete their education and learn about their religion. As for allowing my daughter (Noriza) to pursue work, it’s really up to her. But I strongly believe that you should choose a profession about which you’re passionate. If there’s no passion, you cannot go far.
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