She was only seven when along with her mom and sisters she went around knocking 60 doors to convince parents – letting them know how the game wasn’t ‘dirty’. Now these houses weren’t any in the urban hubs, but those located on jagged terrain; the setting being mountains of Quetta. The mission on these young shoulders back then was to persuade conventional mindsets to send their daughters to play with the oval which when hit with a powerful pair of feet is lifted into the air, and with precision and clean projectile hits the net, turning into a goal.
For Shahlyla, football was everything. Books didn’t speak to her; all the while she was growing, she was getting better at her game. Each day, hours would be spent in training, practicing, bruising, falling and failing, only to improve at what later would bring her accolades. Living by one motto: “To never give up and to stand back up every time life pushes one down,” Shahlyla held onto this adage all the time she spent on and off the field.
This very lady considered her “normal self pretty crazy”. When this scribe enquired what crazy was for her, Shahlyla came out with, “doing something different; something which nobody is willing to do”. And distinct she surely was. From trying to break stereotypes to making national records, this gentlewoman was one who firmly believed in sticking to one’s will. “If you think what others think of you, you will not reach your targets. Do what you want to do and others will start following you,” signs of a leader outshone in her words which were as cleanly trimmed as the grass that surrounded us.
The first time I met Shahlyla was in February this very year, our station being her stage where time didn’t matter to her, where practically she met peace accompanied by thrill – a platform where she would train herself and tutored countless others. Kids and teens would turn up at the football ground where this ballerina of the ground would buck up and hone her footwork – footwork which was first sighted by her father. This pianist did not have to go searching for inspiration; home and her primary circle’s members were all she needed for support.
“My father who played for Baloch clubs inspired me, while my mother was a hockey player,” she talked about her entry into the world of football. Her footwork was not only pronounced, but extraordinary; mighty shots were fired not only by her right or left foot alone; ask her to show her left’s power and stunned you would be, for the right kick was equally energized. Yes, her left and right were powerhouses which showered skill.
Born in Karachi, her hometown being Kalat, and then living in Quetta, richness in culture had this graceful lady covered.
Shahlyla had a lonely childhood. “I have two elder sisters – one four years older and the other, three, with a brother who is a year younger, so I was alone. I crossed mountains on my own, wandered around and then would return at night,” she shared her tale of how climbing roofs, trees and mountains moulded her into a tough being.
And steeled she was. Suffering from a severe ligament sprain left her in much agony and a painful period followed for her when she couldn’t play for three months. As she recalled those days she voiced how she imitated the styles of her all-time favourite, none other than the Argentine magician, Lionel Messi. She fantasized about meeting her hero, however, she got lucky when she met CR 7 – the two who shared the same number’s on their jerseys. “It was like a mannequin walking; the first five seconds I was shocked and had to pinch myself at the sight for what was in front of me was unreal! Also, he was ‘shiny’,” the sultana in green and white expressed as her façade turned rose red.
The grim state of the game in her homeland is what grieved Shahlyla. “FIFA is fair game! Politics should be out of it,” she voiced harrowingly. Shahlyla wished to set up grounds, bring in the right coaches and she came out in the evenings to educate many young buffs of the game.
This star-gazer lived with a dream. One, who dreamt of making it to a football galaxy which is rarely targeted by anyone on this side of the world. “It (dream) has been with me for seven to eight years. It’s to play for Barcelona’s Women’s team. I have even spoken to them,” she talked about European football, a terrace where it would have all started for her, had life’s cruel time-ticking not taken her breaths away.
From receiving the youngest Asian player award to being the first female scoring a hat-trick in an international league, Shahlyla somehow was on a spin – a whirl where somehow she knew time was on a super roll for she bagged and trained, running faster than time, somehow trying to outrun and beat it at its own game of irony – yet, time’s marker turned victorious.
She was one who would look up to two of her closest friends in days of gloom and glee. Meeting her and spending a few hours in her presence, elegance and allure spoke out intangibly; in the steps she took, the style with which she hit the inflated oval, and how can one miss out on her mannerisms!
Be it Alpha, Ice or Burj – her entourage not only comprised of two-legged beings. She was not cherished at home alone but those on the field held an unspoken keenness for her as well, while the furry group – including a Siberian Husky, cat and Belgian Shepherd – were equally fond of her. And the routine was repeated every day. So impatient did they get when MAG’s team conducted a photo shoot at the foot-bomber’s home that every few minutes either Ice was licking her feet or Burj was knocking at the door to get a chance to spend time with his favourite, while Alpha rolled on the floor wagging its tail.
Shahyla had a penchant for white. “White’s my favourite colour because everyone goes for black. I think white’s cool. It’s like the cream on an ice cream,” a foodie who treated herself to biryani on days her team won, shared her affinity for the hue.
Those who watched her play knew her footwork sang the poetry of motion. There was a certain splendour to her game. Look up and maybe you can spot her hustling. And may the spark in the game she initiated never dies down. The pen now seems to falter, for the same hands penned her cover story featuring her on the Women’s Day special edition of this publication. May she rest in peace. •