Imran: An Intense, Intimate Encounter
We fixed up a meeting and he came over to where I was staying, hobbling on his plastered foot. The leg which has kept him out of cricket for so long, is still in plaster, but it is amazing how much mileage he can get out of it. He can do almost everything with it, including drive a car… and most things, except play cricket.
I was very concerned about the plaster. I wanted to give him a cushion to rest his foot on. He said, “Relax, I’ve lived with this.” He was quite amused about the interview, would not take it seriously to begin with. And then, he became very interested in it the minute I told him Zeenat and I are special correspondents for the magazine, handling particular sections. He wanted to know about Zeenat, he asked whether she was going to marry Frank. I asked him if he’d ever met Frank and he said he had, a couple of times.
It was an interesting experience for me, interesting because he turned out to be quite unexpected. He is an attractive man, there is no doubt about that. But then, just because he has this image of being a sex-symbol, you’d think he will flaunt around his sex-appeal greatly. I had presumed he would try to bowl me over with his physical charm and it was very relaxing to see that he did not attempt that at all. We did not relate as man and woman and we did not try to play any undercurrent game at all. We just seriously talked.
I’d not known what we were going to talk about. I’d not had anything specific to ask him. We just talked around and, at some stage, I switched on the tape
recorder that was lying in the flat. Just before he’d come, I’d got a call from my family in Bombay. I was told about the riots in Bombay, the agitation in Punjab, the journalistic speculation that Pakistan was behind the agitation. So I suppose it was uppermost in my mind and it was naturally the first thing we began to talk about…
Imran argued: “What interest would Pakistan have with the Sikhs? I can’t imagine any Pakistani doing such a thing.”
I said the arms definitely came from Pakistan. Where else could they have come from?
“Arms can come from anywhere. There are so many mercenaries around. Individuals sell arms. At present, the arms racket is the biggest one in the world and makes the most money.”
Whatever it is, what happened in Bombay was terrible. I am very secular. I am not in any way an obsessive or fanatical Muslim, but even I was shocked by what happened.
“Every time, in the past, I used to go to India and enjoy its hospitality. Then, when I would go back to Pakistan and talk to the elders, I would say, ‘Why did we have to separate’. And they used to tell me that it had to happen: If it did not, a ‘Muslim
in India would have suffered. And I used to feel sorry, I was never sure about what they said. But now, I am convinced that it was very important for the separation to have taken place. India is for the Hindus. Why else are the Sikhs agitating? Aren’t they too blaming the Hindus for exploitation?”
But it is a wrong concept that India belongs to the Hindus. India belongs to everybody who lives in it!
Says Ms Azmi! “Ask the Hindu media. They will tell you how everything is Hindu controlled.”
How can you say that? I don’t think there is any question of majority or minority. And if you look at it from that angle, the Hindus themselves become minority because they too have so many sub-divisions. “Sub-divisions there may be. But once it is a question of Sikhs or Muslims or any other minority, the Hindus become a whole body.”
ON WOMEN Would you ever live with a woman you loved even if
you are not earning and she is?
“It would depend upon the relationship.”
You feel it’s the man’s job to earn the bread and butter of the household?
“I do believe that if, according to a certain relationship, a woman is in a position that enables her to temporarily help a man to earn his bread and butter, it’s okay. But if a man just lives off a successful woman, then it must take a certain type of woman to accept such a situation.” Why is it perfectly okay for a woman to live off a man happily ever after forever and ever Amen, in spite of the fact that she may be educated and literate and can go out and take up a career? That is happening all the time. So why is it not acceptable the other way around? “Actually, I don’t even agree with a woman living off a man. I think the ideal situation would be one where the woman too is independent.”
Independent, but just so much less than her man, isn’t it?
“I don’t go into degrees of independence. I think
in a relationship, two people should be – as much as is possible – economically and professionally independent of each other. That would enhance their relationship. But if they are dependent on each other, then one way or another, the dependence detracts a lot from the relationship. It becomes a burden.”
If a woman was earning just that much more than you, would it hurt you?
“It wouldn’t hurt me at all.”
If she was more popular and successful than you? “It wouldn’t hurt me, depending on our relationship. If because she is successful and popular, our relationship begins to deteriorate, then I would mind it. But if her achievement did not come in the way of our relationship, it would not bother me.”
Do you wish to get married?
“Not at the moment.”
Do you think marriage is necessary anymore?
“Yes, because of children.”
You can have children out of marriage.
“I disagree. Apart from any moral judgment that society might cast on you, the children are going to suffer unless you happen to be living in a very liberal society. And I disagree with the one-parent family too. I don’t think those situations do justice to the children.”
The more I look around, the more I see all marriages breaking up. Tell me, how many of your young married friends are really happy with each other and not dissatisfied with the whole damn thing?
“A lot depends on your state of mind when you go into marriage. I think when you marry, you must be very aware. The danger of marrying very young is that two people grow apart. When they fall in love and marry, they are on the same wavelength. Then the man goes up in his career, he begins to do well, he is mentally growing. The wife sits at home. After 10 years, they really have nothing in common because the wife is at the same point and the man has gone miles ahead.
I really believe that the brain is something that keeps growing all the time, the more you stimulate it, the more it will grow and if you sit at home, then the brain will not be stimulated unless you
are the kind of person who makes it a point to really read a lot, keep in touch and keep pace with your husband. Only then can you stay together and remain together. But what normally happens is that people (I’ve found this with my friends) who start at the same level, they begin to grow apart and after a time there is no meeting point and that is where the problems begin. That is why I think people should marry when they are older.”
But isn’t it a fact that the older people get, the more rigid they turn?
“I don’t know why people say that. On the contrary, I feel that the older you are, the more sure you will be of what you want and you will not be willing to compromise much. When you are younger, you think love is everything. When you are older, you know it is not, you become more of a realist. I’m all for marrying at an older age.”
Which means you wouldn’t like to get married now?
“I don’t feel ready for it now. It’s not a question of waiting for the right person nor do I look on marriage as a goal to be reached. I’m simply waiting for the stage when I’ll feel I need it, whether for children or whatever.”
Do you have any sisters who are not married? “My elder sister.” Do you have this fear that time is running out for her? “No, I don’t feel that because she has done so brilliantly in her career, she is so successful and I know that it is giving her so much personal satisfaction.”
Oh, so the rules of the game become different for someone who is successful?
“I think so. I had a misconception earlier maybe. But then, at the time when she was eligible for marriage, she could not find someone of her intellectual level, she was always more intelligent than the others in her age group, much brighter and academically so much ahead that it would have been a pity to have stemmed it all with marriage for marriage’s sake. I’m glad at her success and I’m so happy for her. On the other hand, I do understand that if you are a woman, say for instance a woman in Pakistan, then I can see a woman making a compromise just because she feels it is the best alternative since she doesn’t have a career. With my sister, I knew she was brilliant, she went to the London School of Economics, got her degree, went through a few jobs in Pakistan, did something for women – research, finally got into the United Nations, and now, at an age which is relatively much younger than the others, she has got a permanent job as an economist in the UN, she is based in New York.”
Doesn’t your sister feel the need to go back to Pakistan and contribute to the situation in some way, perhaps help the women there? “I think at the moment her ambition is more to establish herself as a top economist.”
What is your concept of an intelligent woman?
“A woman who has the capacity to grasp, someone who has got a lively mind, someone who is not rigid, who is accommodating, who keeps growing, changing.”
Do you think intelligent women are a rare species?
“No, because I was brought up in a house where I had four sisters and all of them were very bright girls.”
What attracts you to a woman first and foremost?
“Looks and personality. If she doesn’t have something to back it, the attraction goes. There are some women who may be very intelligent, have high IQs, but they are not stimulating. To put it briefly, I think my definition of love is to meet someone who can be your best friend.”
Incidentally, Imran denied having ever made any disparaging remarks about Hindi film actresses. He said the remarks had been made by somebody else and had been attributed to him.
I asked him: Do you really intend to go in for an ‘arranged marriage’ with a Pakistani girl?
“I find that difficult to answer because it is so hypothetical. Frankly, I have never ever had the urge to get married. So there has only been this sub-conscious thought far back in my mind that like everybody else in the family, I will get married when the time comes and when it is arranged. That has been my philosophy in everything. Even as a cricketer, I never planned I would play cricket as I am now on a professional level. When I left Oxford, I thought I’d give myself one year of cricket and then go into civil service or something; I never thought I would just be playing day in and day out. So that is why I think there is no way of looking into the future. I don’t have a crystal ball.”
ON CRICKET Are you aching to get back onto the field?
“Only in Australia, I suppose because I’d wanted recognition in Australia. As it is I had a lot of recognition there. But the Pakistan team was never really looked on as a very real team or a great one. But for that match, we had everything and I knew that if we’d bowled in that series, we would have beaten Australia and that would have been the only time we would have ever beaten Australia in Australia. And the whole public was waiting for it because it was supposed to be a tremendous confrontation; we were on par with West Indies. Pakistan, when I was captain, was rated as the best team in the world. So everybody was watching and the world was watching. And I just couldn’t play. At that time I ached.”
I find the competitive spirit in sports very frightening. I know all of us are in competitive professions. But in sports, the competition is terribly naked. Do you have a kind of ‘killer instinct’ when you go out on the field?
“I would not call it a killer instinct. Fast bowling is more of an aggressive act. And I would do it not because it is India or because it is Australia, I mean I don’t take nationalism that far. I would do it because I am a sportsman. Like say Gavaskar does it. I recognize Gavaskar as one of the two or three greatest batsmen in the world.”
What about Kapil Dev?
“Kapil Dev may have done a lot for Indian cricket, but not as much as Gavaskar. To do what Gavaskar has done is just incredible. Kapil has got more importance because he is the only medium fast bowler that India has got. Before Kapil, India did not
have a bowler of any pace. If Kapil Dev had played in the West Indies team, no one would have heard of him, he would certainly have not got into the team as a bowler. Possibly as an all-rounder, but not as a bowler. On the other hand, Sunil Gavaskar would get into any team in the world as an opening batsman and that is why he is a great batsman. Not only in India, but abroad as well. Very few can do that. Even our players, like Tayab Baaz, they may play well in Pakistan, but the outside record is different.”
How long will you be off the field?
“I don’t know whether I will recover from this injury. I’ll see what happens when the cast comes off. I’m not prepared to compromise. If I can’t be a fast bowler, I’m not going back to cricket. I’ll think of another career.”
Would you be able to give up this glamour and live in anonymity?
“I think so. When I started playing, I’d never anticipated there would be all this. Even now I get surprised when I encounter it in Australia or India and of course Pakistan. It still surprises me because I consider myself a cricketer and nothing more, having played most of my cricket in England where cricketers are cricketers and not big super heroes. So when there is no more cricket, I suppose I’ll just have to think of something else. I met Ismail Merchant the other day and he asked me to work in films.”
Would you like to?
“No, I don’t think so.”
Why? Are you scared?
“Well, I’m a cricketer and not an actor, it’s as simple as that. Not anyone can act, just as not everyone can play cricket. I don’t want to just make a fool of myself on the screen. Does that sound logical?”
Even the money wouldn’t tempt you?
“If money is all I wanted, instead of acting, I could have done modeling. I’ve turned down quite a few offers. Just to make money, I would not be able to do something I don’t believe in, like making a soap ad for instance. There was only one ad that I wanted to do but because of my leg, I couldn’t – it was a Mercedes ad where all I was required to do was stand as a cricketer before a Mercedes – a car that I love –
and in front was written: ‘The perfect all-rounder’. Then I did some jeans ad and when I saw it, I felt embarrassed and I haven’t done any since.”
Do you see any Pakistani films? “No, because most of them are pretty bad.”
Why did you make those disparaging remarks about Indian film actresses?
“I’m glad you’ve brought this up. I have never made those remarks. I was shocked that they were attributed to me, especially after the warm reception given to me by the film industry. I must have sounded a real heel.” Why didn’t you deny them? “Oh, you know the press as well as I do. Had I denied it, the whole thing would have snowballed and I would have ended up giving interviews for ever after.”
Even so, it was important that you should have done so. I remember getting very angry when I heard about it. “You shouldn’t have believed it at all. Well – I suppose, how could you – you’ve hardly met me… But I apologise now lady for something I haven’t done… Who baat saare fasane mein jiska zikr na tha, who baat unko bahut nagawar guzri hai. That’s all the poetry I know, so don’t immediately start asking me questions on poetry now!”
Have you seen any Hindi films? “A few, I saw ‘ Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam’ on video. And Waheeda Rehman seemed good to me. She’s the most attractive woman I have ever seen.”
More than Meena Kuari? “There is no comparison. Meena Kumari in that film was melodramatic. I thought she overacted and I wished she didn’t cry that much. But Waheeda was striking. I saw it with a couple of Englishmen and even they found her stunning.”
Incidentally, Imran had not seen any of my films, but he said he had heard I was pretty good in one or two films. He could not remember their names.
With Kapil Dev
With Sunil Gavaskar
With first wife Jemima Goldsmith
With Jemima, their sons Sulaiman and Qasim, and Princess Diana
With second wife Reham Khan
With Jemima, Reham and third wife Bushra Bibi
At his swearing-in ceremony as Prime Minister of Pakistan
Prime Ministerial moments