Had it been any other guest, the staff of this five star hotel in Colombo could have taken their own time changing his room from the non-smoking wing to the smoking one. But then Meher Mohammad Khalil wasn’t just any guest.
On March 3, bus driver Khalil had saved the lives of Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore from a barrage of bullets and grenades. So, if Khalil wants to be in a room to be able to smoke his brand of cigarettes, in Sri Lanka, he just has to say it.
That was just the beginning. Khalil, his wife and brother-in-law reached Colombo last midnight at the invitation of the Lankan government, extended through a state-owned newspaper, to spend a week in luxury in Lanka. In the next few days, the three would possibly visit a religious site, a pretty hill station and enjoy the sun at a beach resort.
“He’ll get the best treatment,’’ said Anil, an employee of a travel company sponsoring Khalil’s stay and accommodation. “We are not allowed to share his itinerary because of security reasons,’’ he added.
At a meeting with the media on Monday, Khalil thanked God for giving him the courage and to save the cricketers. In Urdu, translated to English by a Pakistan High Commission official, he said the next time, if there ever was one, “not one but 16 million Khalils will stand up to the save the cricketers.’’
Grateful Lankan cricketers with their wives stood around at the meet. “Khalil is a man with no military training. His courage, quick thinking and timely action have enabled us to see another day. Thank you (for saving us),” news agencies quoted skipper Kumar Sangakkara as he hugged Khalil at the ceremony in Colombo. “Khalil, we will always remember you… you are our hero,” said Sri Lanka’s former captain Mahela Jayawardene.