New Delhi: Citizens of India may be angry with the Tablighi Jamaat, but let’s not forget at least one member of the Jamaat had put India on the global sporting scene with distinction.
India’s celebrated athletics coach late Mohammad Ilyas Babar was a staunch supporter of the Tablighi Jamaat. He also spotted, trained and took Padma Shri Olympian Sriram Singh to dizzying heights. Sriram won a gold medal in 800 metres in two successive Asian Games and finished a creditable seventh in the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976.
Not many would know that Babar was a commerce graduate and champion athlete of the Osmania University in Hyderabad. But after he passed out from the National Institute of Sports in Patiala with the first batch of NIS coaches in 1961, he made Delhi his base.
Rajputana Rifles in Delhi hired Babar as the athletics coach, where he spotted Sriram Singh in 1967. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Babar at the Markaz
Whenever Babar was not on the tracks with Sriram and other top Indian athletes, he would be at Delhi’s Nizamuddin. He would teach underprivileged children at the Markaz and spend hours at the teashop then run by a man called Sami.
As a young runner, I was also under Babar’s tutelage. But he never ever discussed his religious views with us. In fact, it was Sami who told us that Babar Sahib used to teach at the Markaz.
Babar was a fakir in the sense that he never sought wealth. On the contrary, he spent whatever he had on Sriram and other athletes, even at the cost of his own three children.
Going to the Olympics
During the Olympic games, we asked him to go to Montreal to be with Sriram for the greatest race of his life. But he made up his mind to go only after Sriram Singh ran a brilliant race in heats on 23 July 1976.
Through the good efforts of then foreign secretary Jagat Mehta, we got a passport for Babar in a few hours and he was on board a flight to Montreal on 24 July. He saw Sriram’s final race on 25 July and was back at Nizamuddin by the evening of 27 July. In Montreal too, he stayed two nights in a masjid.
Babar never missed a namaz. When Sriram was training on the lawns at Rajpath, Babar would spread his janamaz and offer prayers under a jamun tree.
In the current coronavirus context, it feels sad that everyone at Nizamuddin or anywhere else with similar religious leanings is being painted with a brush of hatred. But before we do that, let us think of Babar and thousands of others who served the community with distinction.