By Beth Rasin
I only got to know Hashim during the last ten years in my role as producer of “Keep Eye on Ball: The Hashim Khan Story.” At ninety-something, Hashim joined our film crew, in 2005, for a two-and-a-half week trip to London and Pakistan. Hashim would absolutely insist in carrying one of my bags every time we ventured out together. He would open a door and hold it for anyone and everyone behind him. He would offer the smile that could light up a room to anyone who approached him—whether for an autograph, to shake hands or to share a story. And he loved a crowd—time and again, I would see the transformation occur. He could enter a room looking a bit weary and tired; as soon as a microphone was in his hand, or the cameras were on him or a crowd had gathered, he would light up. The trademark smile would glow, his hearing would perk up and he would share a story, some advice or commentary of the squash match he had just watched.
Hashim was tough. We had some long days of filming and sometimes arduous travel, including a full day trip through the Khyber Pass with armed guards as our security. Not once did Hashim indicate that he was tired or needed to stop. After one especially long twelve-hour filming day, he did ask for a glass of milk. And then he was ready to be filmed again.
We had hired a local university professor to be a translator and a guide during our Khyber Pass travels. As we traveled to various places, the professor would make his observations and answer our questions. Hashim didn’t enter into these conversations in the van. But at breakfast the next morning, Hashim said to us, “You know, I don’t think that professor knows all that much. I think you should let him go.”
Just as he had as a younger playing professional, Hashim would always negotiate his travel stipend or per diem. We did have to explain the huge difference in budgets for documentary films as opposed to Hollywood productions. When we were getting ready to go to Peshawar from Islamabad, Hashim indicated that he would rather stay in the five-star hotel in Peshawar rather than the more modest one we had booked. Pleasantly persistent, he tried to persuade us to change the booking. We told him that he could stay at the five star hotel, but the rest of us would have to stay at the less expensive hotel. Hashim demurred; he would stay where the crew was staying.
He was proud of his accomplishments and took great pride in showing us the commemorative plaque at the home he had owned in Peshawar, the Peshawar squash complex named for him and the small train station that was named for him (unknown to us, the station was immediately behind a Pakistani air force base, resulting in our being detained by Pakistani air force officers because we had filmed there.)
Most of all, Hashim loved squash. He was eager to arrive at the Islamabad courts at noon each day for the start of the 2005 Men’s World Championship Team matches; he delighted in meeting the players and watching them play when he was a guest of honor at the 2009 Tournament of Champions.
I got to play doubles with Hashim in 2005. Yes, he still very much wanted to win when he was on court. He couldn’t run, but if that ball was anywhere near his racquet, he put it away for a winner. And if his partner or an opponent hit a great shot, he would say, with a great big smile, “Beautiful!”
When doctors told Hashim in 2010, (when he was somewhere around 96 years old) that he could no longer play squash because of shoulder issues, Hashim wanted to have surgery so he could play again. Neither his family nor the doctors thought that was a good idea.
The last time I saw Hashim was at the 2013 Hashim Khan tournament in Denver. Though his health had started to fail, he made it down to the Denver Athletic Club and watched some of the women’s doubles final, complimented the players on their games, took photos and greeted well-wishers. As always, the squash and the crowds had a restorative effect on Hashim. He was where he most loved to be—at the squash courts among his friends and fans.
PS: During the course of the documentary filming, we interviewed several great champions including Henri Salaun, who had defeated Hashim once, in the inaugural U.S. Open in 1954. Also a feisty competitor, Henri said, “When he gets to be 100, I would like to play him again.” Henri passed away earlier this year. So if you close your eyes and you hear the sound of a squash ball, it is likely the match between Henri and Hashim.