Mohammad Ilyas Babar was a celebrated Indian athletic coach. He was often confused as a ‘Mullah’ because unlike other sports coaches he used to wear kurta-pyjama and always have his cap on his head.
Born in Gulbarg, he was an excellent athlete during his university days in Hyderabad and won the state championship in 110m hurdles for seven straight years between 1950 and 1957. He held a degree in commerce from the Osmania University.
Babar was obsessed with sports and in particular with athletics. He grew up to become a coach.
Though Babar was not very keen to pursue athletics coaching as a career, he ended up doing precisely that. Many of his pupils rose to become Major-Generals, and one a Lt-General. Later he took up an assignment at the Rajputana Centre at Farrukhabad, in 1960.
Rajputana Rifles in Delhi hired Babar as the athletics coach, where he spotted Olympian Sriram Singh in 1967.
It was under his tutelage that Singh’s career touched great heights. Singh clinched back-to back gold medals in 800m at the Asian Games and was able to finish seventh in the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976.
Babar is credited to have produced five Arjuna awardees — B.S. Barua, Awtar Singh, Charles Borromeo, Sriram Singh and Geeta Zutshi.
For his work as a sports coach Babar won the Adidas Best Coach of Asia in 1978, and was presented a golden shoe. Later the Indian government acknowledged his contributions by rewarding him with the Dronacharya Award.
Whenever Babar was not on the tracks training athletes, he would be at Delhi’s Nizamuddin. He would teach underprivileged children at the Markaz and spend hours at the teashop then run by a man called Sami.
Babar never missed a namaz. When Sriram was training on the lawns at Rajpath, Babar would spread his janamaz and offer prayers under a jamun tree.
At the peak of his career Babar had his own sets of fans.
After Singh had caught the world’s attention at Montreal, Babar was hailed as a “world class coach”. But sadly he passed away without realising his dream of producing an Olympic champion.