When Kozhikode was bowled over by Ali

When he first set foot in Kozhikode with no airs or trappings of his global fame, locals in a somnolent corner of the city wondered who the beefy man who stayed in their midst and looked so much like Muhammad Ali, was. The realisation came later, so did the crowds.

It was 1989. Ali, who famously had a philanthropic streak, and his wife quietly dropped down to Kozhikode at the invitation of the late K.P. Hassan Haji, former secretary of JDT Islam and its associated orphanage and school. Muslim Education Society president P.A. Fazal Gafoor told The Hindu that Ali’s primary engagement was to address the silver jubilee celebrations of the institution, of which Hassan Haji was also the treasurer.

“We met Ali during our Haj pilgrimage, at Mecca. He and his wife were there as guests of the Saudi royalty. So were we. Our families soon got close,” recalls Hisham Hassan, Hassan Haji’s son. “My father invited him to Kozhikode and Ali happily accepted the invitation.”

Mesmerising presence

The couple stayed for a week at a home in Kozhikode’s Malaparamba. Ali spent time with the children in the JDT orphanage. “The children were mesmerised, having the legendary boxer in their midst. Most of them had either read about him or seen his pictures,” Mr. Hassan said.

The Alis took no time to become huge fans of the typical Kozhikode cuisine, much of which Hassan’s mother, Zubaida, cooked for them. “Ali was particularly fond of fish and mutton biryani, and local sweet delicacies such as Unnakayi, Chattipathiri and Muttamala,” Mr. Hassan recalled.

Once word got around, among those who went to meet the legend was Malayalam superstar Mamootty, who was shooting in the town at that time.

A huge crowd gathered to see Ali when he addressed the MES function at the Manarchira Square, Dr. Gafoor recalled. “I was the joint secretary of MES at the time and I remember Ali being received warmly in Kozhikode. I was a big fan of Ali the boxer.” Dr. Gafoor also remembers noticing the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease that Ali had. “Since I am a neurologist, I could easily sense his disease when I shook hands with him,” he recalls.

Chance encounter

Ali did not meet the press during his visit to Kozhikode, but veteran sports journalist Ravi Menon had a chance encounter with him. “I spotted him at Hotel Sea Queen, where he was staying” he said. “I introduced myself as a sports journalist and asked him a few questions.” One of them was about Mike Tyson. “I asked Ali about Tyson’s claim that he was the world’s greatest,” Ravi said. “Ali said, Tyson is great, but I am still the greatest.”

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 5:55:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/When-Kozhikode-was-bowled-over-by-Ali/article14386242.ece

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