Vanity Fair
A Bakes progress Image Credit: Vanity Fair
A Bakes progress Image Credit: Vanity Fair

A Bake's Progress

After a hard-partying life as a cricket star and sex symbol, Imran Khan has transformed himself from revered sportsman into international statesman. AATISH TASEER, who has known Khan since his days as a tabloid fixture, explores how an Oxford-educated playboy became the prime minister of Pakistan--and an outspoken critic of Western decadence

Aatish Taseer

One night the future first lady of Pakistan had a dream. Visions and prophecies were Bushra Maneka’s stock and trade, for she was a female pir, or living saint. Known as Pinky Peerni to her admirers, Maneka’s gift of clairvoyance had earned her a following well beyond her hometown of Pakpattan, a celebrated spiritual center 115 miles southwest of Lahore. In 2015, Maneka had added to her growing list of clients the man who was the object of her prophetic dream: Imran Khan, the legendary cricketer and most famous Pakistani alive. “Spiritual guides, or pirs,” Khan writes in his autobiography, “are quite common in Pakistan. Millions of people, particularly in rural areas of the country, follow them, consulting them on everything from religious matters to sickness and family problems.”

Khan was, if not a living saint, then certainly a living god. From the late 1970s, when my mother, a reporter in India, first interviewed him, to well into the 1990s, when he led the Pakistan team to a World Cup victory against England, he towered over the landscape of practically all those nations where the Union Jack had ever flown. Born in 1952 to an upper-middle-class family in Lahore, he had come of age at a time when cricket, the “gentleman’s game” so intimately associated with the spread of the British Empire, was turning into a blood sport, imbued with the tensions of a newly awakened postcolonial world. “For teams like Pakistan, India, and the West Indies,” Khan writes in his autobiography, “a battle to right colonial wrongs and assert our equality was played out on the cricket fi

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