Toronto Star

Eternal optimist had a passion for entertaini­ng

Military veteran wanted to be the first Pakistani to compete in Olympic yachting events


Anis Ahmed wanted to go where no man had gone before: to the Olympics as a Pakistani yachtsman.

Pakistan had never sent any athletes to complete in yachting events at the Olympics, and Ahmed was determined to change that.

The year before the 1980 Summer Games, the then Karachi resident chartered a 20-foot dinghy, known as a Flying Dutchman, and travelled with one crew member to England and Germany to train and compete in internatio­nal regattas. With little money allocated to yachting by Pakistan’s Olympic organizati­on, Ahmed paid all his own expenses and those of his crew member for the twomonth trip. His efforts earned him a berth at the 1980 Moscow games.

Ahmed had caught the sailing bug less than a decade earlier, when he joined the Karachi Yacht Club to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The club became his family’s second home, and he competed in weekly races in the Arabian Sea against fellow club members.

But his fascinatio­n with sailing only started after another passion of his — serving his country as a military officer — ended following his release from a prisoner of war camp in India.

A man who was charming, helpful and loved entertaini­ng, Ahmed died on Nov. 12 of heart disease in Toronto, the city that had become his home 23 years earlier. He was 78.

Ahmed’s house was always open and he loved having big parties, said his daughter, Mehnaz Cogswell. “He was generous, sometimes to a fault.”

“He was always looking at the bright side of things,” said Ahmed’s brother-in-law, F.B. Ali. “It’s sad not to have him around.”

“He had a very internatio­nal outlook on life,” said his brother, Iftikhar Ahmad, who convinced him to move to Canada in 1991.

Ahmed, Ahmad, Ali and their wives became part of a tight-knit social circle in Toronto, getting together every week or two to have a party. “There’s now a big gap,” said Ahmad.

Anis Ahmed came from a family that wasn’t shy, a family with a history of speaking its mind. He was born in 1936, the youngest of eight children, in what is now Pakistan. His father worked in the civil service before partition created India and Pakistan in 1947. Ahmed attended a boarding school in Lahore.

As a youngster, Ahmed was very athletic and very good at sports, said Ahmad, who was three years his se- nior. He played cricket at boarding school and at military college, then followed the game on TV for the rest of his life.

Ahmed joined the military in the 1950s. He was posted all over Pakistan, eventually rising to the rank of major.

When India invaded East Pakistan in 1971to stop a civil war between the people of East Pakistan and the Pakistan army, Ahmed was posted to Dhaka. India won the war, East Pakistan became Bangladesh and Ahmed became a prisoner of war in India, along with tens of thousands of his fellow soldiers. As time dragged on, his family didn’t know if they would ever see him again.

He came back about 18 months later, released on medical grounds with the help of the Red Cross, said Ahmad. He had suffered from malnourish­ment, and his teeth were so decayed they had to be extracted in Karachi and replaced with dentures.

Ahmed spoke little about his time as a PoW. Although there was no deliberate mistreatme­nt of prisoners, said Ali, the conditions in the PoW camps were bleak. Ahmed did tell his brother Iftikhar that he kept being moved from camp to camp because he would always stand up for his rights as a PoW. Once back home, Ahmed retired from the army for medical reasons and started a real estate developmen­t company.

In 1974, at one of the many parties he attended, Ahmed met a member of the Karachi Yacht Club who invited him to come sailing. After that first outing, he was hooked. Ahmed joined the club, learned to sail mostly on his own and started racing his fellow members. “He jumped headlong into it,” said Cogswell.

Life became stressful for Ahmed in the 1980s as religious fundamenta­lism began taking root in Pakistan, said Cogswell. Instabilit­y grew after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanista­n in1979. Three of Ahmed’s brothers and one of his two sisters had already moved to Canada and encouraged him to join them.

Once in Canada, Ahmed tried out a variety of careers, retired, then survived a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery in 1994.

“He lived a contented, happy life in retirement,” said Ali.

Ahmed leaves behind his wife, Mehtab (known as Tabi to her friends), two children and two siblings.

 ??  ?? Anis Ahmed at his 1966 wedding to Mehtab (Tabi to friends) in Karachi.
Anis Ahmed at his 1966 wedding to Mehtab (Tabi to friends) in Karachi.
 ??  ?? Ahmed moved to Canada in 1991 after religious fundamenta­lism began to take root in Pakistan.
Ahmed moved to Canada in 1991 after religious fundamenta­lism began to take root in Pakistan.

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