By Niala Mohammad
Pakistan’s first national hero, Hashim Khan passed away on Monday, August 18, 2014 at his home in Denver, Colorado. He was believed to be 100, but his official age was unknown due to lack of official documentation. Recognized as one of the greatest squash players of all time, Hashim Khan hailed from Naway Killay (formally known as Naud-e-Payan), a village in Peshawar where Bacha Khan International airport was literally built upon.
This village has produced seven world champion squash players and several national champions. Khan not only etched his name in the game of squash but paved the way for others including his younger brother Azam Khan, cousin Roshan Khan, nephew Mohibullah Khan and his cousin’s son Jahangir Khan. His family dominated the game of squash for over 30 years. His legacy became a source of inspiration for younger generations of Pashtun youth who continue to conquer the sport.
Hasham Khan was introduced to the game of squash at a very young age. His father, Abdullah Khan was the Head Steward at the Royal British Army Officers’ sports club in Peshawar. Khan accompanied his father to work and served as an unpaid ball boy at the club, retrieving balls that were hit out of court by the officers and using the empty court as his playground. But, this unofficial position became permanent when Hashim Khan was eleven years old, his father passed away leaving him to fend for himself and his family.
His professional squash career began in 1944 when he participated in and was successful in winning the first All-of-India Championship in Bombay. His career was tempered by geopolitical events in the Indian sub-continent; India’s independence from the British Empire, the creation of Pakistan, and ongoing regional and civil unrest. However the 1950’s brought a wave of good luck for Hashim Khan, as Pakistan wished to be recognized as a progressive and participatory international country he was sent to England to represent the newly established country.
In 1951, at the age of 37, when most athletes retire from their sport, this stout Pashtun whirlwind went on to whip the British at their own game and continued to do so for almost a decade.He was the first athlete to put Pakistan on the map by becoming the British Open Champion seven times, the US Open Champion three times, the British Professional Champion five times and the Canadian Open Champion three times.
Khan had brought his family to the US in the early 1960s after being offered to teach squash at the Uptown Athletic Club in Detroit. In the 1970’s he took a position at the Denver Athletic Club in Colorado, where he raised his family and settled for the remainder of his life with his wife, 12 children, and grandchildren. Hashim Khan continued to play squash until he was well into his nineties. He never returned to Peshawar but often visited the PAF Hashim Khan Squash Complex commemorated to his service for Pakistan.
Hashim Khan is described as a “Legend”, “The Godfather of Squash”, “Revolutionary Player”, “A True Sportsman” and a “Gentleman” whose humbleness and passion for the game of squash motivated many to follow his path including renowned players such as Rehmat Khan, Carla Khan, Qamar Zaman, Jansher Khan, Shahid Zaman, Mansoor Zaman, Maria Torpekai, Amir Atlas Khan and many more. His name will forever be synonymous with the game of squash.