I still dream my mother is alive: Susan de Muth in bed with Imran Khan
SUSAN DE MUTH
IMRAN KHAN, 40, retired from international cricket last year, having captained Pakistan for the best part of 10 years. Since then he has been raising funds for a cancer hospital in Lahore and published a book about his travels in North Pakistan. He has homes in Lahore and London.
I sometimes wake up not knowing where I am. I have been leading a nomadic existence for years – first as a cricketer, now as a fund-raiser – and I’m looking forward to the time when I’ll be able to settle down and sleep in the same bed for a long while.
Of course my nights are very different depending on where I am. Yet I am at ease, whether in the West or Pakistan. I am rooted in my own identity, my culture and family. I have never had any intention of breaking away from that.
Last year I travelled a lot in the remote Pathan tribal areas of Northern Pakistan researching my book. One evening I was watching the Powindahs, a nomadic tribe, finally at rest having set up their tents after a hard day. A wonderful harmony suddenly settled on them – adults, kids, camels, sheep and dogs, all relaxed and content in the beautiful light of the setting sun. I remembered times when I’d had that same feeling after a hard day on the cricket field, tired but at peace because all had gone well, and I saw that some experiences are universal.
Every male Pathan carries a gun and I had to sleep in fortresses accompanied by an armed guard. The authorities thought I was at risk, that the tribesmen might use me to embarrass the government. In fact I never felt myself to be in any danger. My ancestors were Pathans and I got to know the tribesmen. I spent fascinating nights by log fires, talking to the elders. Every morning we rose with the sun and I discovered the beauty of nature at dawn.
It was very different to my life in Lahore where I like to stay in bed as long as possible in the morning with my tea and newspapers. I still live in my family house and always mix with the same friends – we meet more or less every night and have a meal at someone’s house. In Pakistan I am usually in exclusively male company: the only women you mix with are your family.
The worst nights of my life were in Lahore when my mother was dying of cancer. Though it was nine years ago, I still can’t forget those two months when she was in such severe agony she couldn’t sleep. One of the family would stay up with with her all night, and when she died we were all physically and mentally exhausted.
I still dream of her, and it’s strange because she always looks so well and happy, never in pain. We talk about ordinary things and then I realise that she’s dead and I wake up with this deep sadness. She was everything to me: a friend, a guide when I was a child, my roots. English people don’t understand how important family is to us.
Nor do they understand faith. When my mother died I realised how vulnerable I was and looked for strength in spirituality. English people seem to find this rather backward and strange, but I have found a lot of peace.
I rarely have any trouble sleeping now, though when I was playing international cricket I was often kept awake by anxiety about injuries. Any little twinge could herald a strain that would prevent me from bowling and I was quite a hypochondriac] I don’t get the exercise I used to, so I am no longer tired enough to immediately fall asleep. I enjoy reading – often until 2am. At the moment I am going through the Koran, slowly and reflectively.
I spend about two months a year in London. I like it because of the contrast with Lahore. I can go out to dinner every night with different people from all over the world, which I find very interesting. Of course I meet a lot of women and enjoy their company, but there’s no one special at the moment. The playboy image was invented by the press simply because I am single.
I would like to marry and have a family if only I could find the right person. An arranged marriage may have more chance of success. My own objectives have only recently become clear – to build this hospital in memory of my mother and go on to other social projects in Pakistan. Any possible wife would have to share these objectives. The thing I fear most is the possibility of failure. I would never consider divorce as an option and would do my very best. That’s the problem . . . it’s just so much of a risk.
‘Warrior Race’ is published by Chatto & Windus, pounds 20.
Donations to the Imran Khan Cancer Appeal can be made to National Westminster Bank. Sort Code 56-00-27.
Account No. 00492205.