QUETTA: Stuntman Muhammad Usman can jump over five cars on a motorcycle and pull a car with a chain tied to a sharp knife hung around his neck.
There are many showmen in Pakistan who can perform such stunts, but Usman, from Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, is special: his left leg was virtually paralyzed after he contracted polio aged six years. Now the 38-year-old leads an active life as a stuntman, saying he never allowed the crippling virus to keep him from pursuing his dreams.
“One day I went with my friends to the historic Sibi Mela where I saw various stuntmen performing in the festival,” Usman told Arab News in Quetta. “I asked a man whether I could perform these stunts but he looked at me and replied sarcastically: how can a disabled man become a stuntman.”
That day, Usman said, he resolved to prove his detractors wrong, joined the ‘Power Show Club’ in Quetta’s Nawa Killi neighborhood, and began training under stunt master Shaira Bangulzai.
Pakistan last week launched a nationwide vaccination campaign against polio amid tight security, hoping to eradicate the crippling children’s disease this year. Pakistan had hoped to eliminate polio back in 2018, when only 12 cases were reported. But in the years since there has been an uptick in new cases.
Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only two remaining countries in the world where polio is endemic, after Nigeria was last year declared free of the wild polio virus.
Usman said he never received polio drops as a child because his illiterate parents were unaware of the dangers posed by the virus.
“But I have been vaccinating my six children with polio drops during every single anti-polio campaign in Quetta,” the stuntman said.
Bangulzai, who has been Usman’s teacher for around five years, said he had more than 190 students across Balochistan but Usman was the most “loyal and keen” among them.
“When Usman joined my club and asked me to teach him, I couldn’t refuse him because I didn’t want to break his hopes,” the instructor told Arab News.
In one memorable instance in 2015, Bangulzai said Usman had to replace him at the Sibi Mela after he had to pull out of the event at the last minute to take care of an ailing relative.
“My student [Usman] performed ... with immense confidence and accuracy in what was his first public performance,” the teacher said.
Stunts is not all Usman does.
He is also the driver of a passenger coach and a rickshaw, a performing artist for TV and theater shows, and a comedian.
“What else could I wish from my god?” he said, expressing gratitude for the “full” life he had led despite being a polio sufferer.
Usman is now training his eldest son who at the age of sixteen is already performing at small festivals.
“I want my son to become a famous stuntman in Pakistan,” Usman said. “Because after my death, people will know him by my name.”