Akram and Inoki

By Dr. Jamshed Bashir

Akram and Inoki

Posting an essay I wrote a few years ago when I visited Karachi

The city has changed so much that it is almost impossible to recognize the few landmarks still there. Others have either been dismantled, or covered with thick sediments of dust and debris that it is impossible to figure out what the original structure was. The old city luckily is not too different from the times when I wandered there, although everything is in a very advanced state of decay with crumbling buildings and precariously hanging balconies, still inhabited by fearless residents. You can still recognise the streets and find your bearings. Starting from Gushan, we drove on Shahra e Faisal Rd towards Saddar and reached the old Hotel Metropole, past the Hockey Stadium and headed for MA Jinnah Road taking a turn towards Arts Council and Bagh e Jinnah. Reached DJ College and took some pictures.

I studied there for two years, starting in 1976. It was one of the two renowned men’s colleges at the time, the other being Adamjee (for women I guess it was St Joseph’s). It was inaugurated in 1882 as Sind Arts College, but in 1887 it was renamed after Munshi Diwan Dayaram Jethmal, a philanthropist and the chief benefactor. I travelled daily for an hour each way from North Nazimabad to Burns Road on route number 2K, in sweltering heat in smoky buses, packed full of sweating, generally irate passengers, to attend lectures, hoping to get enough marks to gain admission in the coveted Dow Medical College, which was only a few hundred yards away. There was a wonderful physics teacher, whose lectures were attended by students from other colleges, as there was no checks on the attendees. The Zoology teacher delivered lectures with mouthful of paan, his chin pointing skywards to keep the liquid ‘peek’ from spilling down the angle of his mouth and an Urdu language teacher, a middle aged, short bearded fellow, who humoured us with anecdotes from his time in England, which he obviously cherished. There were numerous new friendships and friends, some of which I still stay in touch with, others lost but not forgotten.

In June 1976, the boxer Mohammed Ali had a bizarre boxing wrestling contest against Inoki, a martial arts wrestler from Japan, which ended in a draw. One of the Pakistani wrestlers, Akram Pehlwan, younger brother of the famous Bholu, son of Imam Buksh and trained by the legendary Rustam e Hind, Gama Pehlwan, threw a challenge to Inoki, completely out of the blue. To our surprise, Inoki accepted the invitation. It was unbelievable. Carrying the honourable Bholu legacy of his older brother on his shoulders, Akram, or Akki as he was called, had put not only the family’s but the country’s reputation on line. Inoki had become world famous after the Ali contest, whereas Akram’s previous reputation had waned over the years (he was 46 by then) and he was virtually unknown beyond the boundaries of Pakistan. Inoki had another fight the very next day following his fight with Akki, with a Canadian wrestler Tiger Jeet Singh, which was probably ‘fixed’, like most of the heavy weight wrestling contests, but it did demonstrate that both of those wrestlers were at their prime, whereas Akram’s best days were firmly behind him. He looked like a domesticated, flabby ageing uncle, who liked to relax with the family, sharing amusing anecdotes of his foreign adventures when he was young. He hadn’t had a professional fight for years, living off his own and his brother’s reputation, who were all genuinely good wrestlers of their era. Akram himself had quite a few victories to his name, including a win against the Hungarian King Kong. What we didn’t know at the time was that his left shoulder had been damaged a number of years ago and was ‘dislocatable’, a definite ‘no-no’ for a heavyweight wrestler about to take on the finest in the field.

Akram’s training gym was next door to DJ college, called Darus Sehat, which was open to public. He was supposed to be getting training in Martial Arts from Ashraf Tai, a local grandmaster to equip him with techniques of Karate and Judo as Inoki was quite versatile, but whenever we visited the ring, we found Akram lying on a couch, or sat in a chair watching his sons or nephews training in the ring, or giving interviews to the press on how much butter he ate daily, the quantity of milk (gallons) or meat he consumed in preparation for the big match ahead. At other times he was getting his photos taken next to his Dad, the great Imam Buksh, who was 90 at the time, with big bushy mustache. Inoki on the other hand made no such claims and in fact suggested he was on a diet like his beautiful film star wife. One of Akram’s nephews Nasir Bholu, studied in the DJ with us, a handsome tall guy with a few friends in tow, although he hardly attended any lectures. There was no sign of Mr Tai, or any Martial Arts training in the ring. We were filled with a sense of foreboding and apprehension watching an ageing middle aged former wrestler coming out of semi retirement and attempting to add another honour to the list of trophies accumulated by his illustrious family.

On the big day in December 1976, we went to our Uncle’s house to watch the fight, as he had been an athlete in his younger days and knew a thing or two about wrestling. We watched the live transmission on TV with anxiety and nervousness. It was old fashioned Greco-Roman wrestling, no Karate moves except a kick or two by Inoki who appeared to be respectful and hesitant, in case he hurt his older opponent, but even then Akram looked out of sorts. Although all of us were alarmed at the lopsided contest we were witnessing, Uncle assured us that Akram was fooling around to keep people entertained, confusing his opponent and would soon unleash his killer moves to stun the novice Japanese, ending the fight with a comprehensive knock out. We remained unconvinced, as Akram appeared unprepared and unfit, like some of us secretly feared. Soon Inoki had him in an arm lock and Akram was helpless, visibly in pain.. Realising his predicament, his trainers and handlers jumped into the ring to save him from humiliating submission, the fracas ending the match. The sad show was over. Poor Akram was relieved of his misery. His left shoulder had dislocated during the arm lock and he was in agony.

We watched in disbelief, at the premature end of the contest, a technical knockout of Akram. My Dad and especially my Uncle were shocked, as Uncle genuinely expected a late miracle which never materialised. We looked at each other, not sure if it was all over and the man we supported had gone down without much of a resistance. The winner was gracious but the crowd was stunned. Akki had been outmanoeuvred and outclassed. Inoki later accepted Bholu’s request for a rematch, when Akram’s nephew, Jhara 18, fought Inoki 36, a couple of years later in Lahore. It was a more evenly poised match, which ended in a respectable draw, but Inoki kindly lifted his young opponent’s arm to let him salvage his family’s reputation. To be fair, Jhara could have won on points.

Tailpiece: Sadly Jhara started drug abuse soon thereafter and died at the age of 31 from an overdose. Akram also died six years after his fateful fight he should have avoided, at the age of 53, his reputation in tatters, butt of cruel jokes at the time. Many years later, Inoki came back to Pakistan to visit the graves of his erstwhile opponents, whom he remembered fondly and to pay his respect. He was greeted like a hero by Pakistanis, a true sportsman and a gentleman. By then he had also converted to Islam, impressed by the legend of Hussain, changing his name from Antonio to Mohammed Hussain Inoki and becoming a roving ambassador for peace.

3rd Aug 2016

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About Amin H. Karim MD

Graduate of Dow Medical College Class of 1977.
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