The following is a profile of a Pakastani pioneer from the 1950s. Hamid and Parveen Ahmed got more attention in Europe for their style of dress rather than their tennis. They were true pioneers nonetheless. The relatively liberal times they were living in is indicated by both women still being the only Pakistani females to compete at Wimbledon to this day.
Profile: In a league of her own
By Shazia Hasan
14th August, 2011
Tahira Hamid reminds one of Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) in A league of their own. She may have aged but there is little that has changed in the way she carries herself.
Walking tall and proud, she may no longer be as active as she used to be but you can’t miss the light in those eyes at the very mention of sports.
Hailing from a sports-oriented family, she wasn’t just the daughter or sister of any big names in sports. A versatile sportswoman, she was, herself, a gold medalist athlete!
However, a modest Pakistani lady, nonetheless, she prefers talking about her accomplished father and brother first. “My father Major S.A. Hamid was in the army. He was the first secretary of the Pakistan Olympic Association and the Pakistan Amateur Olympic Federation. And before that he had as a young student at Government College, Lahore, represented India in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He competed in nine events, an All-India record. As for my younger brother, Farooq Hamid, he was a Test cricketer, as was my cousin Khalid Aziz. Later he took to umpiring,” she says.
About herself, she was always a winner. “My first major competition was at the Punjab Olympics in 1952 where I bagged four gold medals in discus throw, shot put, javelin and 1500-metre cycling,” she explains.
At the Pakistan Olympics (National Games now), the same year, she again won four golds in the same four events as she did in the 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1960 games held in various cities of the country, including Lahore, Sahiwal, Dhaka and Peshawar to be declared the Best All-rounder Athlete.
Meanwhile, the versatile sportswoman also went abroad to compete in several tennis championships but not before winning some battles at home. She cried her eyes out when her father refused to send her to play in a tennis event in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). That was the first and the last time that he ever stood in his only daughter’s way.
Tahira’s mother, of course, wasn’t even allowed the luxury of objecting once when her daredevil tomboy of a daughter cut her two plaits to sport a boy cut. The mother’s constant complaints to the father that this wasn’t the way to bring up girls fell on deaf ears as he got the kids spiked shoes and track suits from his trips abroad.
In tennis, she played individually as well as doubles and mixed doubles. “My mixed doubles partner happened to be none other than Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed, Aisam ul Haq Qureshi’s maternal grandfather. I used to call him uncle at the time,” she says. The duo ended up second at the Asian Championship in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1955 and the Central Championship in Allahabad in 1956. “That was also the year when I toured Europe together with Parveen Ahmed and Iftikhar Uncle as part of the Pakistan All Stars delegation. Mr Khokhar was our manager,” she remembers.
Winning the women’s doubles in the Asian Tennis Championship held in Lahore in 1958, she also finished as the runners-up in the mixed doubles. The following year, she along with Parveen, represented Pakistan in the individual competition at the Wimbledon.
About the 1959 edition of the Wimbledon, Tahira says that they wore crisp white shalwar kameez for their matches. “Though we couldn’t accomplish much at the event, to our surprise, we were made the subjects of a big newspaper story due to our dress sense. One of the papers in London carried our pictures in playing attire with a big mocking heading that said something about us coming to play such a major event without doing away with our 100-year-old fashion. But instead of feeling backward or outlandish, we were proud to be wearing shalwar kameez as it was our identity,” she says.
“I gave all my time to sports,” recalls Tahira. “I used to work so hard. I would wake up early in the morning for jogging. There were more exercises in the form of rope skipping, etc., after school, following which I would go to the Gymkhana for tennis practice to reach home in the evenings at around 7.30pm. So working out for six to eight hours a day, I never took my success for granted.”
About her education, she honestly says, “Attending the St. Joseph’s Convent School when my father was posted in Karachi and the Convent of Jesus and Mary when we returned to Lahore, I received fine basic education. But I won’t lie; I never went to college or university as I told my father that I could only concentrate on one thing at a time, which happened to be athletics and tennis. I feel blessed for the support I got from him,” she says while showing me her parents’ framed picture that hangs in her bedroom. On the dressing table is another frame of very pretty young woman with cropped hair. No prizes for guessing who that is.
The sports activities all came to a halt around 1960 when Tahira got married and went to England. “The last tournament I played in was the National Tennis Championship in Lahore in 1960 where I won both the ladies singles and mixed doubles event with Munir Pirzada,” she says.
But even though she wasn’t competing, she got a part-time job as a tennis coach at a high school in London where she taught three times a week, along with holding a regular job in the accounts department at the Pakistan High Commission. “So you see, I never said a complete goodbye to sports,” she, the mother of three sons and grandmother of six (three boys and three girls), says, who learned to cook only after the birth of her children.
Working in the official capacity, she was manager of the Pakistan RCD Games women’s team that returned with nine medals from Iran in 1976.
Two years later, in 1978, she set up the Pakistan Women’s Cricket Association (PWCA) on the suggestion of her brother and cousin. “We started with an announcement for trials in the press for which some 500 girls showed up. The best ones from them were selected and called to attend camp. We had the Lahore College ground at our disposal already and thanks to the current Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ijaz Butt and his sister-in-law, the former Women’s Wing Chairperson (late) Shirin Javed, I also got a Pakistan shoe company as our main sponsors,” she says.
“I made Shirin my association president and Bushra Aitzaz its chairperson. 33 years on, these people, with the exception of dear Shirin, are still very much around serving the sport,” she adds.
Living a retired life now, Tahira says that she hardly steps out of the house unless she is invited to grace a sports event and prefers to spend her time in prayer. An old tennis hamstring injury has also started acting up now and keeps her from much activity. The many medals that she won lie packed in a carton in her son’s garage.
Still, it is not easy to forget her contributions and achievements in the world of sports. Today her blown-up pictures grace the walls of Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad. The International Cricket Council (ICC), too, honoured her with a commemorative medal at the National Stadium Karachi last year. The event was attended by her entire family including the grandchildren, two of whom happen to be good football players. So even though none of her sons took up sports professionally, there is hope yet for the third generation, or fourth if you are counting from her father.