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Ali Peter John

It was some time in the eighties. Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) who was on a world tour to promote the cause of some Muslim reforms (he had converted himself to Islam after he had won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship thrice). Mumbai, then Bombay was one of his stops and he had a meeting with the Press at the Taj Mahal hotel. He was not in the best of health as the dreaded Parkinson’s disease had just shown signs of affecting him, but he still was a fighter and tried his best to fulfil the mission he had set out for. I remember how when a senior editor who was a sports and film ‘specialist’, Mr T.M Ramachandran went on pestering him with what Ali considered were insignificant questions and he had tried to shout out, “You ugly man, will someone throw that ugly man out”?

That same evening Ali was supposed to be a very special guest at the launching of a film at the Sun-N-Sand hotel in Juhu. Not many took the event seriously, but it was a fact which turned out to be a major happening It was Sultan Ahmed who was once an assistant of K.Asif (“Mughal-E-Azam”) or so he claimed and Dilip Kumar suspected,who had a friend who was close to “The Greatest” who managed to talk to Ali and made him agree to be a guest of Sultan Ahmed who had made films like “Heera”(which was considered to be a comeback film for Sunil Dutt after he had faced a series of setbacks), “Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye”, “Jai Vikranta” and “Daata”. I

f I remember right I think Ali was invited to the launch of “starring Mithun Chakraborty. There was excitement all over the hotel as the security for Ali was very tight. He arrived in a Rolls Royce which was followed by twenty cars with security men fully armed with the latest ammunition. Sultan Ahmed had also used the presence of “the greatest” to present special awards to actors who had worked with him.He was still looking dashing, a six feet and two inches tall man who was a face familiar to anyone who knew anything about sports and specially boxing, a field in which he was “God” like the media in America called him.

His escorts and advisors led him to Sultan Ahmed and they exchanged greetings. Sultan who knew very little English kept following him saying, “prayers go up and blessings come down” which seemed to make no sense to Ali. He could hardly speak because of the first signs of the killer Parkinsons were knocking at his body,but he still had that spring in his feet and he still looked like he could “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”, the line which was turned into a song and was a part of the biopic made on him in Hollywood. Among those who were presen and recieved trophies from him at the exclusive event were Sunil Dutt who was the source of inspiration for Sultan Ahmed, Mithun Chakraborty who was the hero of Sultan’s “Daata” and Rekha who had looked stunning in his film, “Pran Jaaye Par….”, looking as ravishing as ever, making Ali train his eyes on her all the time till he couldn’t control his curiosity and asked Sultan who she was and called her, “a very beautiful girl” and I could see Rekha blush.

All those present clamoured to come closer to “The Greatest” but very few could because of the security guards who looked so huge and fierce that anyone who cared for his or her life would not dare to reach anywhere near him. He just mumbled a few words which no one could understand, but one thing was very clear. He continued to have his eyes focused on Rekha all the time and finally asked someone if she was some queen from some part of India, but Sultan Ahmed took pride in telling him that she was the leading actress of Hindi films, I was following every move he made and the moment I found some kind of a chink in the security, I pushed myself before him and it was Sultan Ahmed who again came into the frame and said, “Ali, leading journalist of our industry, Ali meets Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest”, pictures of the two Alis, one half the size of the other, one a struggling journalist and the other “The Greatest”, an idol of millions all over the world were clicked. I was in the limelight for those few moments I was with what greatness in man meant, the one and only Muhammad Ali. I couldn’t believe that I had shaken hands with the hand that had knocked out some of his most formidable rivals and couldn’t sleep that night.

Something like this had never happened to me even when I was considered extremely lucky to have kissed the ring of Pope Paul VI during his historic visit to Bombay way back in 1964. These unexpected happenings have made my life what it is more than all the wealth and luxuries others have in their lives…Sultan Ahmed had organized a dinner for “The Greatest” after making sure of his likes and dislikes, but Muhammad Ali was the butterfly who was waiting to make his way out in the same way as he had made his grand entry, but not before he slowly turned his head to where Rekha was. I wondered what “The Greatest” would have said to Rekha if he was younger if he was in the bloom of his youth and if he was not surrounded by more than hundred gun-toting security men all around him.

P.S- The only film celebrities who ever had the chance of meeting Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest”, were the “God of Tamil Cinema”, M.G Ramachandran who later founded his own political party and became the first film personality to be a chief minister and Amitabh Bachchan, a fan who met him during one of his many trips to America and the man with the saint-like voiced Mohammad Rafi. It is more than thirty-two years now and I suddenly woke up last night and remembered all that had happened when ‘the greatest’ was in Bombay for just one day and had left memories which tiny people like me can never dare to forget.

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Tags: Bollywood, Bollywood News, Bollywood Updates, Television, Telly News, Muhammad Ali, Rekha, Sultan Ahmed

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