CHENNAI: Irfan Pathan has not forgotten his past. In fact, the difficult days gone by, spur him on. Money, he claims, has not impacted his approach to life.
“I remember the days when my father, my mother, my brother, my sister and I used to sleep in the same bedroom. And it was not a long time ago — just five years back. But we were still happy. We still used to get food three times a day. I used to tease my sister. My brother would crack jokes at me. We used to play in the rain. Money or the lack of it did not make a difference to our happiness,” remembers Pathan.
His is a compelling story encompassing the vicissitudes of life. “I am just 22, but I have seen life,” says Pathan, speaking to The Hindu. Striving to script a comeback to the Indian team now, Pathan travels back to the days of struggle, or rather enjoyment.
Recalls Pathan: “You know, myself and my brother Yousuf had only one bicyle to travel to the practice facility 18 kilometres away in Vadodra. There were times when we used to toss about who would ride the bike. But my brother was clever; he would ensure that he would be the pillion. Before our father gave us his bike, we would hitch rides on bullock carts.” Yousuf, a promising off-spinning all-rounder, is among the probables for the Twenty20 World Cup.
These experiences are precisely why Pathan says celebrity status has not changed him. “I became an India cricketer only four years back. We have subsequently moved to a three-bedroom house, have a car, and other comforts. But deep down I am myself, I am Irfan Khan Pathan.”
Displaying rare maturity for someone his age, Pathan maintains his omission from the Indian cricket team has not left behind psychological scars. “Being there means you have a different lifestyle. The five star hotels, the swanky cars, the adulation, the travel to different parts of the world, they are all there. But I am not a party animal in any case.
“You must not forget that for the first 18 years of my life I lived in a very different environment. That has always stayed at the back of my mind. I also realise that a cricketer’s career cannot last forever. When I retire, I will have to lead a different lifestyle anyway.”
Apart from his feats for India on the cricket field, ask Pathan about what gave him most satisfaction and he is quick with his response. “You know my parents have sacrificed a lot for me. My father used to cycle around 20 kilometres to the factory during the day. In the evenings, he used to work in the mosque. He worked 17 hours a day for us. You know how much he earned from the mosque — Rs. 550 a month. He did it out of love. He did it for us.”
Pathan goes on: “You can ask me things that made me happy. Off the field, I would says it was when my parents travelled by air for the first time. You know my father, Mehmud Khan and my mother, Shamim Banu, are different personalities. My mother loves travelling. My father likes to stay at home. I asked my father about the flight. At first, he did not say anything. Then, he conceded that he felt a little churning in the stomach. They stayed in a five-star hotel. From inside, it gave me a lot of satisfaction.”
At the MRF Pace Foundation here, Pathan chose to stay with the rest of the trainees — he also regales them with soulful singing — in the hostel though he was offered separate accommodation. “I wanted to be with them, experience the feeling again. They are so fearless,” he says.
The left-armer does confess that he was consumed by the fear of failure when his bowling went off the boil. “Yes, self-doubts crept in. At the end of the day we are all human beings. We feel good and we feel bad and we have to get over it. I talked to myself. Saw myself in the mirror. It helped. Now, I do not worry.”
On returning midway through the South African tour and being under intense media scrutiny before the World Cup, he says, “It is interpreted in different ways. Obviously, returning midway from a tour is not a happy experience. But, I understood what Rahul (Dravid) told me and he was right.
“Since India had won the first Test, he said there was unlikely to be any change in the Indian team. He thought I could get some match practice back home ahead of the World Cup. About being in the media glare, yes, I did get the impression that I was being constantly monitored. You have to cope with it.”
He is buzzing again with the ball — the technical chinks that crept into his bowling have mostly been corrected. He also says his batting will surprise people in days ahead. “My primary job is to bowl. But I will prove a lot of people wrong with my batting.”
Pathan has eyes that laugh and a spirit that shines through. Importantly, he remembers his roots.