Hockey made Avtar Bhurji scramble for life!

Dec 05, 2018, 08:09 IST | Ashwin Ferro

Avtar Bhurji one of the oldest photographer covering the Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar talks about his journey

Hockey made Avtar Bhurji scramble for life!
News photographer Avtar Bhurji at the Kalinga Stadium yesterday. Pic/Ashwin Ferro

At 73, Avtar Bhurji is easily the oldest photographer covering the World Cup in Bhubaneswar. And it's been a long and arduous journey — from having wielded the hockey stick himself for Uganda at the 1972 Munich Olympics to now covering the game for Australia's Sports Media Group news agency.

"Our coach was Rajinder Singh Gentle, the legendary three-time Olympic gold medal-winning [London 1948, Helsinki 1952, Melbourne 1956] India player," reveals Bhurji proudly as he takes a breather in between matches at the Kalinga Stadium here to recall the good old days. "Uganda finished 15th in the 16-team Munich Olympics, but holding Argentina [0-0] and the mighty Spain [2-2] were the highlights of the tournament for us," says Bhurji, who played as a midfielder.

Infamous Munich Olympics
The Munich Games became infamous for the massacre of 11 Israeli Olympians, who were abducted from the Games Village by Palestinian terrorist outfit, Black September. Bhurji was nearby. "The Israelis were housed in the building opposite us, but everything happened stealthily that none of us had a clue until the next day when there was a memorial service held in the Village. It was decided by the organisers that the Games will go on as a sign of defiance to terrorism but deep down, we were all scared," says Bhurji, who was born in 1944, in Bika Village of the Nawanshahr region in Punjab.

His family migrated to Uganda the same year and he was brought up in Kampala, playing hockey with the majority immigrant Asian population. While the Munich Games was the peak of his career, it also was the start of what he calls the "sliding tackle" in his hockey career. "When we returned from Munich, Idi Amin [Uganda's President and a notorious dictator] wanted immigrants to leave all their wealth and exit Uganda. Thankfully, my father was a government contractor so we didn't have to move but our entire hockey team, which was full of Asians, disintegrated. Anyone who opposed Amin's ideologies would all of a sudden disappear without a trace."

Forced to choose between a Ugandan passport and British citizenship, Bhurji then moved to England, where he represented Blackheath Hockey Club in 1973 and went on to clinch the National Indoor Championship with them in 1976. He currently resides in Worcester Park in southwest London, and lives off rental income from his multiple property investments.

A shot of a different kind
With age, Bhurji has hung up his hockey stick, and picked up a camera to still be close to the game. "I have to rush, the next match is about to start," he says and hurries off towards the hockey turf to take shots of a different kind.

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