You are trying to reach Yusuf Pathan on his mobile phone but the call stubbornly refuses to go through. He is in the jungles of Sasan-gir, Pathan reveals when you finally manage to connect.
The Baroda and Kolkata Knight Riders’ all-rounder is a man of few words. But ask him about plants and animals and watch him transform into Gerald Durrell almost.
“I was in Gir forest over the past two days with my sister to see a lioness which recently had a litter of five,” says Yusuf.
Unlike most star sportsmen, Yusuf doesn’t have time for the parties, fancy cars, television or the social media. For him twitter is about birds and he claims he can recognise many by their call. Tending to plants and pets, birds pecking at grains he leaves in the garden and a grandstand view of the animal kingdom are what give him a high.
When home and not training, Yusuf is happy spending all his free time in the garden. And when he trawls the information highway, it is mostly to read about wildlife.
Those who know the giant of a man well say that even cricket doesn’t get him this passionate.
“I have grown five to six varieties of tulsi, 100 types of roses, custard apple, mulberry, coconut and date palms, berry, banana and pomegranates,” he tells HT at his well appointed home in Baroda. The rose garden is his favourite and is by the window of his mother’s room.
The boundary of his garden has huge cages housing some of the world’s most exotic birds, fighter cocks, goats and rabbits. At his farmhouse some 100km away, live three horses, says their owner with obvious pride. He doesn’t ride them anymore though. “Last year, my horse which had big white and black patches died. I was very attached to it. Since his death, I have stopped riding horses,” he says.
Yusuf may have given most of his life to cricket but says he connected with flora and fauna from early childhood. “When we lived in the masjid I used to grow and take care of plants. The knowledge of how to grow and cut, I learnt from my mother and father.
“I know how to grow them in a pot, how to tend to them, what manure to put. A lot of knowledge I also picked up while visiting various places in the country. I visit nurseries wherever I can. I like going to the jungles and get my plants from the nurseries there,” says Yusuf.
The Asiatic lion found in the Gir Forest National Park, a seven-eight hour drive from Baroda, is a favourite with Yusuf.
“He’s such a proud and healthy beast. I like to see the lion’s face. The beard makes him intimidating but the eyes convey majesty, a sense of pride.
When he walks, you can see he is the king. Even while sitting, he looks so regal. His behaviour is so fascinating to watch, how he walks alone and protects his domain… Equally, I feel sad to see him in old age.
“Whenever there’s a function in the forests, I try to go, taking my friends or father along. I have taken Irfan (younger brother and also a former India cricketer) with me too.
“Irfan’s first time turned out to be a memorable experience. Two lionesses and a lion walked right next to our open jeep and gave us the once-over. Irfan was floored. He took a picture and now he excitedly shows it to everybody. He’s not that passionate but appreciative,” says Yusuf.
One of Yusuf’s unfulfilled wishes is to sight a tiger in the wild. “I have been to many tiger reserves such as Bandipur and Bannerghatta National Parks in Karnataka, but the wait continues.”
For Yusuf, birds are not just things of beauty but their continuous activity raises the energy level all around.
“You never feel lonely in their company. “We have an African gray parrot which mimics everyone.”
Once he almost bought a camel.
“I was coming from Ajwa when I encountered a tribe with camels and their young ones. I decided to buy one from there but the friend accompanying me, informed my mother who refused permission, saying it’s a big animal and it would be difficult to take care of,” he says.
“After cricket, all my time is spent with wildlife. When friends come home, they first check the garden. I can spend hours there. All the pressure, the tension vanishes, pura mind divert ho jaata hai. It also helps me stay away from all the (negative) things and I get to live my passion.”