Inzy lets things flow over him
This is not just the story of a man who has risen to be one of Pakistan's icons. It is also a more human tale, one of two friends and a friendship that has stood for nearly 20 years, despite the differences caused by distance, status and money.
On Thursday evening, even as the hotel prepares for the arrival of the Indian team (the Pakistani team is not top priority), one man is trying to find a proper place for a big framed photograph of a young, laughing Inzamam-ul Haq. He is painstakingly going over a banner written in English, welcoming Inzamam home. "Is this correct English?" he asks. "More or less," one smiles apologetically. "My friend is coming home," he smiles excitedly. "And I want it to be perfect."
Meet Ghulam Mujtaba, just Mujtaba to most, almost a tradition in Multan himself --- everyone knows him --- and the Pakistan skipper's long-standing friend. "People here never used to talk of Mujtaba and Inzamam without mentioning the other," says another man, watching Mujtaba's efforts. "Yes," says Mujtaba. "But that was a long time ago. Now he has gone far ahead, further than even he dreamed of going and I just watch with pride."
Inzamam met Mujtaba through elder brother Intezaar, who was a friend. "Intezaar brought him to my father's shop one day," says Mujtaba. "I was 16-17 and he was younger. We hit it off immediately and it's always been that way."
According to Mujtaba, they were a group of four. "Inzamam has never been one for making many friends. Even as a kid he would either hang out at his only sister's place here or at my home. Night after night, after everyone had slept, Inzamam would make the omelettes, I would make the rotis and we would eat and eat and talk."
Mujtaba recalls how they would often not sleep at all, just wash up and go straight for the first namaaz of the day and be there even before Inzamam's father, Pir Intizam-ul-Haq, one of Multan's biggest spiritual leaders. "He would always ask us how we were there so early. We never told him the truth."
Inzamam, it appears, would spend most of the day at the old Multan Stadium practicing with bat in hand. "It was Imran Khan, on a visit here, who saw him and said he wanted him to come to Lahore. There was a lot of heartbreak but it was the best thing for him, so he went and joined Lahore Club."
He remembers the time Inzamam was picked for the 1992 World Cup and that incredible match-winning semi-final performance against New Zealand. Inzamam played that match coming straight off the drip --- he had some kind of food poisoning and it was decided he could play just hours before the game. And then the World Cup win.
"Multan came out to meet him in full strength at the airport," says Mujtaba. "I didn't go. He was a superstar and I wasn't sure if I would fit in with his new life now. I didn't want to impose." When the motorcade carrying Inzamam was passing the shop, the then young star got off and brought his friend to be with him the rest of the way. There are pictures of the two waving from that convoy. "He's always been that kind of person," says the by-now emotional Mujtaba.
"Fame hasn't changed him." He thinks a bit and then adds that only in the past few years has Inzamam begun asserting himself a bit more. "Things people said during the match-fixing phase, other problems, added responsibility of the captaincy, they've all made him react now and then. He still is laidback, has nothing bad to say about anybody. In fact, that's the best and the worst thing about him --- his tendency to just let things flow over him."
Time has passed since those glory days. These are heady days of a different type. On Friday morning, Inzamam comes down to breakfast. A little later, Mujtaba enters and the two embrace. Even as Inzamam leaves for nets with his team after a while, Mujtaba prepares to take the Pakistan captain's wife and children back home. They are obviously used to it.
He introduces Inzamam's beautiful wife and then refers to his son, attired in a mini-Pakistan uniform, with pride. "Ehtesham wants to be like his father when he grows up. For me, there can be no better dream." And then he waves, he's in a hurry. He runs the barber's shop in the hotel.