SANG GERAK: A STONE'S THROW.
There are long straight stands on either side, with a narrow lane dividing them in the middle, on which there are chalk lines to mark out the playing area. On one side is the player standing in a crater and, on the other, a molehill with the target.
This is Sang Gerak, the sport that draws out many people of the Hazara community in Quetta District every evening. All rush to the hills. Today, there is a man there in his sixties holding a big round stone in his shaky hands as he aims and gets ready to hit his target. The target is a four-inch piece of pipe protruding from the ground at an 80- to 90-feet distance from him.
He is Zawar Shah, the captain and star player of the Zawar Shah Sang Gerak Club, named after him of course. He is playing in the final of a Sang Gerak tournament and he can sense victory.
Derived from Persian, Sang Gerak literally means 'holding a stone'. The sport is about hitting the target with a stone. A Sang Gerak match will have two teams with their own sets of heavy, round-shaped stones, which they have found around the hills they hold their matches.
It is said that Sang Gerak was invented and played by poor people, most of who happened to be old men, as it helped keep them happy and occupied while doing plenty of target practice with stones.
But delving into the history of this sport would tell you that it was first played in Central Asia almost 1,000 years ago. From there it was bought to Quetta in Balochistan by the migrating Hazara community, via Afghanistan, during the 18th century. Sang Gerak is still played in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.
Provided things go according to plan, an ancient, traditional game inherited from Central Asia and now played by the Hazara tribe in Quetta is soon going to be introduced to the rest of Pakistan
Born in 1953 in Quetta, Zawar Shah is 68. He is one of the oldest players of Sang Gerak in Quetta, most respected for his game and the records he has created. He holds the record of hitting the target five times in consecutive rounds.
Shah says, growing up, he used to watch his community elders play Sang Gerak. He himself started playing at the age of 22. 'I am 68 now and I have played Sang Gerak every day. I am the captain of my own Zawar Shah Sang Gerak Club,' he says with pride. Obviously there is no concept of retirement in this sport. After completing his education, Shah joined the police department from where he is retired now.
Another elderly player, Inayat, 65, says that when he started playing this sport, all players would first contribute money that was later presented to the best players as a reward. 'But now the rewards come from our audience, who present 50 rupees or 100 to the players who impress them the most,' he says, adding that each team has three to four players.
'Our young generation is not interested in playing this ancient game, but they do like to watch us oldies make a mockery of ourselves,' Inayat chuckles.
'The younger lot these days prefers karate, kung fu, football, which is all good because we can't indulge in those sports and get our brittle bones broken. Still, we don't want this traditional sport to die as well,' Inayat adds.
For now, the elderly are very much keeping it alive. There are some 20 Sang Gerak teams in Quetta and they play at least two matches every day.
'We want to promote this sport in the rest of Balochistan and the entire country,' Inayat says. 'Sang Gerak should not be limited to the Hazara community of Quetta. We want to take the game to Karachi, to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Hazara Division, Gilgit and Baltistan, but we don't have the resources.'
Another senior player, Asadullah, who is captain of the General Moosa Club, says that, in the past, they used round shaped stones to hit the metal pipe target but the stones would break easily. 'Now, our club has decided to use wooden pieces to hit the target instead of the traditional stone. Some of us have also switched the metal pipe with a plastic or rubber pipe,' he says.
The matches are supervised by two referees. One stands beside the target and the other near the player aiming at the target. Hitting the target earns you two points and another turn. It can keep on going until you miss the target and your turn ends.
Sang Gerak was registered by the Balochistan government this year by its provincial sports board. The government has also promised that it will help the players organise an annual tournament of Sang Gerak in various cities of Balochistan.
Mohammed Ishaq, 45, the secretary of the Sang Gerak Association in Quetta, tells Eos that, just like other traditional sports such as Malh Malhakra or Kabbadi are the regional traditional sports of other provinces, Sang Gerak is the identity of the Hazara community in Balochistan.
'We organise a Sang Gerak tournament every year in Quetta,' he informs Eos, adding that Zawar Shah is the champion of this year's Liaquat Ali Sang Gerak Tournament. 'His club won the trophy for the first time in 2018 and again now in 2021. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we could not organise a tournament in 2020,' Ishaq says.
According to Ishaq, the Balochistan government has also provided a proper ground for Sang Gerak. 'It is 120 feet long and 60 feet wide and is situated near Koh-i-Murdaar,' he says.
'The adviser for sports and culture to the Chief Minister of Balochistan, Abdul Khaliq Hazara, has also announced full support for the promotion of the ancient game, not only in Balochistan but in other provinces as well. We are now planning to organise events of Sang Gerak in Kalat and each and every district of Balochistan,' says Ishaq.
'There should also be under-18, under-17 and under-16 Sang Gerak teams in every province of the country.'