I don’t like boxing as a sport.

The violence and cruelty in the sport brings out the  worst primal feelings in humans, I feel. Why should a man beating up another man, excite,  I have always wondered ? Is that what ‘strength’ really is ?

Yet, Muhammad Ali, was my hero.

For  I saw and sensed in him an exquisite gentleness despite the brutality of his fighting skills. The mark of a true  fighter. A warrior.

 Growing up in India in the 1970’s & 80’s, I would read about Ali’s exploits in the ‘Illustrated Weekly’ magazine , which has been discontinued now. The sometimes smiling , sometimes contorted face of Ali would leap at me from the pages. I would read  about  his victories, his defeats, his controversial statements, his thoughts of deep conviction. In each, my heart would thrill to the passion this man had ,his unflinching courage and the absolute arrogance with which he held his beliefs, political or religious. I had  ( still have) a pair of red boxing gloves with ‘Everlast’ written on them; they were  pirated/fake ones which were sold in  the Gaffar market , Karol Bagh of Delhi, known for contraband stuff. Yes, Muhammad Ali reined everywhere! Like Barrack Obama said  he was ‘ a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden”. When television came in the 1980’s and quickly in its wake , the VCR ,my Dad and cousin brothers  (and later on my guy) would watch the legendary matches and fights , over and over again. I never did though,  still haven’t and possibly won’t in future. Violence in sports and  a violent sport will never really have my vote.

But I will continue to revere Muhammad Ali. He was not just ‘the greatest’ boxer. That’s selling him very short. He was a great human being, walking tall with the likes of Martin Luther King  and Nelson Mandela.There are men  so luminous…so powerful that they give us strength and vision to quash those niggling self doubts we all have when faced with choosing the right thing to do in the face of grave opposition and discomfort.

I did watch Ali light the Olympic torch at Atlanta in 1996, though. His hand trembled a little. The dreaded Parkinson’s disease had ravaged his body. But nothing could take away that warrior’s pride.

koi janey naa yeh josh tera….
koi janey naa junoon tera…

(No one knows/knew your passion….no one knows/knew your madness)

…so go the lyrics of a beautiful song by alternate rock band ‘Junoon’…seems fitting for a man who will always remain ‘The Greatest’.

It is an unusually still Sunday morning here in New Delhi. The air is heavy. Redolent with the promise of rains .

From somewhere in the neighborhood, the husky and beautiful voice of Rekha Bharadwaj, floats down to me singing ‘Tere Ishq Mein”. I leave you with that. And the accidental sufi smiles at her self…dil sufi  yeh hai,hum chal diye , jahan le chala , tere ishq mein  🙂



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