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May 19, 2006   

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Genius in the time of hate and bloodshed

Reportage: Sheela Bhatt

Elsewhere, in a nondescript house in Mandvi, Varodara, Irfan Pathan's parents fearfully hid from everyone the news that their son, an internationally recognised sports icon, is visiting. Communal unrest and its inevitable consequence death, they had long since learnt, knows no rationale, respects no person.

And so, as a young girl walked along streets that reeked of recent violence, Irfan Pathan hid like a thief in his own home, stealing moments with his parents, with his brother.

In those two images of startling polarity is encapsulated the tragedy of Vadodara -- a city that has often united in cheering the on-field accomplishments of a favourite son; a city wherein that selfsame achiever and his family have on occasion feared for their safety.

The signs of fame are everywhere -- in the crisp salute policemen of either community greet Irfan's father Mehboob Khan with; in the way young beauties simper and giggle and blush as they shake hands with Irfan's brother Yusuf; in the solicitousness with which neighborhood women inquire of Irfan's mother Shamim Banu how her son is doing, invariably prefixing to their inquiries the line "Your son is our son."

Today, when Irfan takes a wicket or blasts a ball to the boundary, they dance in the streets with unrestrained delight -- the same streets in which, not so long ago, a handful of trouble-makers invited Mehboob Khan's ire for celebrating a Pakistan win over the Indian national team.

The joy runs deep; so do the scars. Khan remembers how the police, who today salute him, used to push him around at the height of the 1969 communal riots, as he sneaked down the staircase of the Jamma Masjid in Mandvi, where his father and maternal grandfather served -- they recited prayers on behalf of the devout.

It is a tale of two cities, and of an incandescent talent that took root and grew in such uncompromisingly stony soil.

To hear that story, spent the evening of May 2 with the family while outside,the city, calmed by curfew, brooded over the violence it had unleashed on its own.

Also read: Sachin back in the nets

Irfan Pathan's home in Vadodara. Photograph: Sheela Bhatt

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