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Everything is larger than life here

Do you sing? "How do you know?" he counters, laughingly. "So when did you refuse to model anyway?" comes another question, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2004 00:37 IST

Do you sing? "How do you know?" he counters, laughingly. "So when did you refuse to model anyway?" comes another question. "How does everyone know everything?" he asks again with almost-childlike ingenuousness. And then he laughs again.

"I know I have to start getting used to people knowing things about me but it's taking some time."

Irfan Pathan has grown up. Suddenly, the boy from Baroda's Jama Masjid has moved on to become a young man with a potentially brilliant future.

His unusual background has only added depth to the charm that this 19-year-old oozes. As he settles down to talk about the changes in life post his joining the Indian team, he's wearing that part-puzzled, part-resigned expression and still chuckling.

"Sorry, I'm loving all this," he says apologetically. "It's what I always dreamed of, when I was a kid and used to play in the masjid courtyard.

“But somehow, I never expected it to happen like this, so quickly. And everything's much bigger than I thought. When you're with the team, everything's larger than life."

Life for Irfan began to change when he bowled superbly and made everyone sit up and take notice in Australia. But he realised the extent of the change only when he got back to Baroda.

"Very honestly, the tour changed my life. For instance, I was able to sit down and have my first conversation with my parents only five days after getting back from Australia.

“We never had a minute to spare. My time was never my own as there was a constant stream of journalists, extended family, friends and people I didn't know who just wanted to meet me coming to my house. It was very exciting at first but then I also wanted to spend time with my parents. It took five days for everything to settle down."

For his parents, Irfan says, he remained the same person. "They were very proud of me but kept reminding me to keep my feet on the ground. At the same time, they also know that the values they've instilled in me run deep. I know that from inside, I am the same person. On the outside, there have been changes, I believe for the better."

The most important thing he has got after becoming an Indian cricketer, he says, is confidence. "I led a pretty sheltered life and was nervous about interacting with so many people. But being with the team, watching how senior players like Sachin, Sourav, Rahul and Laxman conduct themselves, it's helped me get a self-assurance that I did not have.

“I'm more relaxed now about meeting people, about saying no when I have to, about making decisions that I never had to make before.”

So how does he, at 19, manage to do as his parents say and keep his feet on the ground? It's a life and lifestyle that can change anyone, can go to anyone's head, let alone someone so young, who's not used to life in the fast lane at all.

"I've been around for only a few months now and life I think has changed as much as it can. I've gone through the phase where I felt absolutely fantastic and was flying at the thought of playing alongside people I've watched on TV as a kid --- Sachin and Rahul especially. I can only keep telling myself to watch what I say to people, be nice, remain the person I am and remember my values."

And then he looks suddenly serious. "But I believe in God's way and I am sure he'll keep guiding me."

We decide to break the somber moment and get back to an earlier question --- why he refused to model. It's time for the by now characteristic chuckle. "It was a while ago in Bangalore. Prasad Bidappa called on a friend's phone and asked if I would be interested. I was just about to enter the masjid for the jumme ke namaaz (Friday prayers). My first thought was that I wasn't ready for this and I felt disturbed. So I told him I wanted to concentrate on cricket and I was flattered but it wasn't for me then."

Irfan has one advertisement to his credit, a 40-second slot for Hero Cycles that he said he would do earlier. The other offers he's kept on the backburner till this series is done with. "I keep cycling in the ad," he laughs. "It was something I'm used to, I've travelled on cycles all my life."

But there's a four-wheeler out there, waiting for him. He's waiting for the money from the Australia tour to come in so he can go car shopping. "Nothing fancy," he insists. "I'm a normal small-town guy. I don't want to go overboard."