Salim Durani misses a few words as he speaks over the phone. “Come again…” he says, requesting the person on the other end to repeat the words. This time, he listens carefully, laughs out loud and replies wittily: “ Yeh kya ek nayi bimaari aayi hai, aapne suna tha iska naam pehle ?” (What's this new disease that has come, did you hear its name earlier?)
The point of reference here, of course, is the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has brought the entire world to a standstill. And as the country faces an extended lockdown, Durani - like every other citizen - is stuck at home, hoping for better times.
At 85, Durani’s movements are anyway restricted, but even then, in normal circumstances, he loves travelling to Rajkot and meet his old friends. These days, however, he is confined to his home in Jamnagar.
Having suffered an asthma attack in December last year, Durani had to be admitted to the hospital, and even after returning home, there are a few restrictions that he needs to follow.
While medicines and regular health check-ups have become part of his routine, the former India cricketer still enjoys long phone calls with his old friends.
“Health-wise, I am better now. But it is difficult to stay at home the whole day. I can’t even step out due to the coronavirus,” he said. “But it is also important for all of us to stay home and be safe. The government has issued a few guidelines, which we need to follow. I am also abiding by the rules,” he said.
These days, he spends time watching old cricket matches on television or reading books. But there are moments when it gets difficult to while away time.
“At times, it feels like you have done some crime and that’s why you are being punished like this,” he joked. “But then, what else do you do? In times like these days, you have to be careful and stay disciplined,” the former batsman added.
Living in a joint family, a lot of time is also spent with the children at home. “These days, even friends can’t come over, so I spend time with the kids. I tell them stories of cricket and also walk down the memory lane,” he said.
Some of his old friends, which includes former cricketers, too, dial him up. “We mostly end up talking about cricket and the days bygone. We talk about the playing days and share stories about Dilip Sardesai, Chandu Borde and how enjoyable our times were,” Durani, who featured in 29 Tests for India, reminisced.
In his 13-year international career, Durani had developed a strong bonding with fans, who once protested with placards and slogans, which read: “No Durani, no Test”.
This was after he was dropped for the Kanpur Test against England in 1973. “Those are the memories I still cherish.”
Even though he can’t step out of home, he keeps a tab on what’s happening in the world of sports.
“Now, all sporting activities have been suspended. And time is not right to resume cricket. After all, it is a team game, so at a time when social distancing is very important, there is no question of resuming cricketing action anytime soon,” he explained.
“It will take some time, but eventually, it will start once the situation improves. The players need to be mentally strong and stay positive. It is tough for sure, but they need to be patient,” the former cricketer stated.
His niece, Neena - who is fondly referred to as Fauzi by Durani - looks after him and makes sure that he maintains a strict routine.
“The doctor has advised him a regular dose of medicines. He has some asthma problems, so for that, we need to be careful. Even during the lockdown, we have arranged for his medicines, so that’s not a problem,” Neena said.
For someone like Durani, who loves meeting people, it is not easy to stay confined at home. “We are about five people at home, so maamu (Durani) spends time with us. He starts his day early, and also sits out to soak in the sun and then his friends call to check on him. At times, he gets restless, but things eventually ease out,” Neena said.
The doctors have issued some health restrictions too, and one of the major points is no smoking.
“He was once a chain smoker, but now due to his health, it has completely stopped. And, he has also come to terms with it. It's a good thing,” Neena said.
A ‘Prince Charming’ in his time, Durani could change the course of a match - either with the bat or the ball. But now, as the world grapples with the pandemic, it’s those memories that keep the yesteryear superstar going.
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