They wanted to breathe free; steal a glimpse of a world away from violence and bloodshed. And so, they chose to pick up the racquet instead of holding grudges or picking up the gun.
Burhanuddin Mir Aman Khan and Mohd Abid Mohammad Alim, 17, are from Afghanistan. Here to participate in the Yonex-Sunrise Asian Badminton Championships, they say they couldn’t have asked for more.
“This is our first time in India,” said Burhan. At 21, he is the player, coach and manager of the national team that comprises just the two of them.
Although both Burhan and Alim lost in the qualifiers, making it to India and playing in the championships has given them immense satisfaction. Burhan says, “For us, watching the top shuttlers play is an honour. We would not have had this chance back home.”
Burhan was born in Kabul at a time when the country was going through a major upheaval; Aghanistan was ravaged by Mujahideen attacks, and was ripped apart by civil war in the wake of the Soviet invasion.
Over five million fled the country, mostly to Pakistan. Both their families were among them. Burhan was four at the time, while Amin was a toddler.
“My father and Khan’s worked as accounts officers with the UN,” said a reticent Abid who spoke occasionally, just to put his point across. “Due to the terrible violence, we had to flee the country. Our parents though continued working with the UN in Islamabad.”
Destiny saw Burhan wandering into an academy in Islamabad where he would watch his friends play everyday. “I could imagine myself playing the game. It fascinated me. So I took Alim, who was a neighbour, and we started practicing. We also had the opportunity to train with some top Pakistani shuttlers.”
In 2001, the shuttlers relocated to Kabul after the Karzai government took over. This time round, Burhan was determined to help other kids who dreamt of making it big, just as he had. He took it upon himself to improve the quality of badminton in the country, “Whenever we play, people would form a group and would ask us questions, like, what is the game, what is this bird like thing (shuttle), how do you play this? Things will improve though, inshallah,” said a smiling Burhan.
As we finish chatting and the players look to get on with their routine, what leaves an impression is Burhan’s fluency in Hindi. Not one to hold on to secrets, he playfully asks, “Did I impress you with my language? It’s because of the Indian company I work with in Kabul,” and skips off into the players area.