THURSDAY, JUNE 9, 2016
It was ‘The Greatest’ moment for all those who were present that splendid day!
Everything that was associated with excitement was happening in the plush
hotels of the city at that time, and we were so used to meeting presidents, prime
ministers, movie stars, sports stars and international celebrities. There was never
a dull moment.
We were informed a week in advance that Muhammad Ali, the great boxer was
going to stay in our hotel – the Sheraton! It was breaking news. The question
was “How should we welcome him into the hotel when he arrives,” as we looked
at each other for ideas! He was no ordinary VIP; he was a citizen of the world!
A day before his arrival (he was due to arrive at 11.00 a.m. next morning) news
traveled fast by word of mouth – no Internet then – that Muhammad Ali was
coming to the Sheraton, so a lot of people started coming to the hotel late in the
evening. Nobody was turned away, just informed politely, ‘come tomorrow
morning’! Can we do that today??
By 9.00 a.m. the area outside the main door of the hotel was teeming with fans,
young and old, college students, media and bystanders. There were no road
blocks, barriers, police mobiles, sniffling dogs or metal detectors, just a
broad smile & twitch of the mustache of the doorman. All those who came
were welcomed! The lobby area though, was cordoned off by the hotel’s
security staff, as the ‘Talismen’ – a local band group settled on a makeshift
stage near the elevators.
The plan was, as soon as Muhammad Ali entered the hotel, the band would
strike the famous song “Black Superman”. Norman D’Souza, the lead vocalist
had a powerful voice and we knew once Ali entered, the thousands who were
present outside would enter with him; and yes indeed, they did. It was a rare
spectacle of adoration and affection for a man whose presence in Pakistan was
The moment had arrived, an advance police party informed us that the Champ
was on his way. The driveway was cleared and in drove the world’s famous
personality, the Louisville Lip! As soon as he got off his car and entered the door,
the band struck with the opening tune as Norman’s serenading of “Sing
Muhammad, Muhammad Ali….you float like a butterfly and sting like a
bee!” echoed in the lobby. The cheering was deafening.
The look on Ali’s face was astonishing, something he had not expected; he was
so overwhelmed that he ‘floated’ slowly forward in a sea of people, as if some
magnetic force had overcome him, and moved towards the stage, got up and
joined the band boys! He did his famous ‘Ali Shuffle’ on stage to the delight
of the people and threw a few punches at the screaming crowd.
Muhammad Ali enjoyed those special moments on stage, waited till the full song
was played and gave a ‘Hi-Five’ to the band boys. He was taken away briskly to
the nearby elevators where the hotel staff was waiting near a standby lift. We
took him to the grand Moghul Court (executive floor) where we shared some
great intimate moments with the legend. Present were, Hafeez Malik, Sohail
Pasha, Qadir Mailk (Late), Charmaine Alam, Farzana Ali, Anis Qarni, Azmat
Masood, Zarmineh Kaleem, Asim Khan and myself.
Muhammad Ali was a funny man, his mimicry put us in splits of laughter.
He was also a magician, showed us some tricks with his red handkerchief
as we all looked into his piercing eyes that spoke about his wit, charm and
passion. He was indeed, a man for all occasions – so comfortable and
friendly as if he knew us from childhood.
When we asked him to sign the ‘Visitors’ Book’ it was then, sadly, we noticed
that Ali was at the first stage of Parkinson’s – a disease that would prevail over
his great strength in the years ahead. As he wrote “Muhammad Ali” with his
trembling right hand, he looked up, smiled at us and reminded us “I am the
Greatest” – “yes you are, Sir!” we all said as he moved to his suite for the rest of
How can we ever forget that splendid day with ‘The Greatest’? It changed our
lives in so many ways. Farewell.