6/5/2016 ~ Ali Ali Ali

photo by Ira Rosenberg

I am and have been, since as far back as I can remember, a fan of Mohammad Ali. As a teenager his was the last face I saw before I slept, the first when I woke up: Artistically dotted with sweat like condensation on a cold glass, he stood ringside, unsmiling, gloves one over the other. The poster over my bed was life sized. Imagine my disbelief and delight when a man I dated (for the shortest of times,) who worked at the American consulate in Bombay, said he would get me ringside seats at the exhibition match. I cannot even describe what I felt when I got to shake one those hands from inside those gloves. I didn’t pass out, thankfully.

Before that, In 1976, I was in (then) Yugoslavia, visiting my mother and new-born sister. One of Ali’s fights was to be televised live in Europe. I had never seen anything live on TV before. Then my mother said the landlady had a color TV – I didn’t know such a thing existed! So off we went, and I sat there watching, mouth open, completely enthralled by the whole experience. We are used to this now, but to watch, in color, my hero, in real time when the term real time wasn’t yet invented – it is one of the most memorable events of my life. Still is. While my mother and I were at the landlady’s, we had put my white jeans (it was 1976, people wore white jeans) in a pot on the stove to boil away the grime. When we went back upstairs, the house was full of smoke, the jeans were a small black lump stuck to the pot, my baby sister had not asphyxiated because my mother had put a towel under her bedroom door to prevent the warmth from the space heater seeping out. But that’s another story, nothing to do with Mohammad Ali or my love for him.

Watching him these last years, not floating like a butterfly, not even making a sentence without trouble, was what made me question my great love for football, and why I stopped watching it altogether.

He died too young, and I am aware that what killed him was also what made me love him.