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Aly is so accustomed to apologizing for being late that he sometimes does it automatically even when on time. He has one of the worst cases of telephones ever seen outside Hollywood. A secretary or servant usually is holding a telephone for him when he enters the door of his office or home. Usually they are frantically trying to call him back to take another call when he departs. Any session or meal with him is constantly interrupted while he jumps up to take calls which he explains are too important to be ignored. "I have often wondered," said a colleague musingly, "how he fits so many women into his life. Do you suppose he has a special set of earphones?"
Aly's present pace cannot be attributed to his new U.N. job. He has maintained it for years. Even as a youth he seemed almost solemnly determined, as some friends recall, to prove that he could do everything they could do—only faster. He was always at the top of the hunt when he rode to the hounds. In point-to-point races in Ireland and England he rode with such reckless abandon that his father finally put his foot down and made him confine his riding to flat races. Aly still doesn't see the point in this. "Flat racing in my opinion is just as dangerous as any other kind," he says. "It may be even more dangerous."
Publicity given his other exploits has made most people forget that in the '30s he was a well-known and heavy-footed driver in practically all the big automobile races in France and Italy. He drove in some of the smaller races in Italy up until a couple of years ago, and as recently as 1953 he had his Alfa Romeo entered in the hazardous Mille Miglia when his father stepped in and forbade Aly to drive, using as an excuse that he had not sufficiently acquainted himself with the 7,000 death-dealing curves in the course.
Aly himself is proudest of a sporting achievement which attracted comparatively little attention. In 1932, with two companions, he made the longest civil flight ever to start from India up to that time—a 10,000-mile round trip from Bombay to Singapore. Flying over the treacherous jungles between those two points even in a modern single-engined plane with no radio would not be relished by most pilots. In those early days of flying it was daring in the extreme. Aly still glows with pleasure when he recalls it. "Now, I hope you understand it correctly," he told a caller recently. "Four planes were supposed to make the trip. Three Leopard Moths and a Puss Moth. I was in the Puss Moth, the only plane to complete the trip. With me in the plane were a Major Vetch, who was the instructor at the Bombay Flying Club, and an assistant editor of The Times of India, an old Parsi gentleman who had lost three fortunes and been up only once before when I took him for a short hop over Bombay. But for some reason, probably because he felt he owed it to my father, he was determined to go along with me. It was a very sporting gesture on his part, I must say.
"It was fabulous fun. We flew from Bombay to Karachi to Delhi to Calcutta, then across the Bay of Bengal to Akyab and Rangoon, all across Malaya to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and finally reached Singapore. We then flew back again. Naturally we didn't have a radio; most planes didn't in those days, you know, and we were all bundled up in heavy flying gear and wearing goggles. Major Vetch and I took turns at the controls, though at that time I didn't have a flying license and didn't get one until a couple of years later in Cairo."
Like most men with sporting instincts and means, Aly has had a go at big game hunting. A list of his trophies, bagged on a dozen safaris to choice localities in Asia and Africa, reads like the inventory of a respectable-size zoo. "I've shot everything considered worth shooting except an elephant," he says, "and I don't intend to kill an elephant." He takes some pride in mentioning that he killed all of his big cats—three lions, seven tigers and some 20 or more leopards and panthers—while on foot and not from the safety of a machan, but it is obvious he does not find shooting as exciting as some sportsmen do. A possible exception might be the buffalo. He has killed two, and he considers the buffalo the bravest of all animals. "They have wonderful courage and it takes a great deal of skill to hunt them on foot," he says.
Sports to Aly mean speed and danger. The only sporting event he likes to watch is horse racing, which he considers something different and in a class by itself. He has never shown a serious interest in ordinary popular sports. "I've played nearly everything except cricket, but I'm not terribly good at some things," he confesses. "I used to play quite a lot of golf but was only fair, with a handicap of 10 or 12. I'm an indifferent tennis player, though I used to play regularly for the exercise. I've always swum a lot and I still manage to take a swim almost every day. It's a grand exercise."
A few years ago when advancing years and increasing weight made it evident that his career as a gentleman jockey was coming to a close, Aly took a whirl at driving in the trotting races at Vincennes, outside of Paris. He made a respectable showing, but his interest soon waned. "I didn't find it very exciting," he said recently. "I think I would like it much better if the horses didn't trot but galloped as in a flat race—you know, like a chariot race, rushing around the track as fast as your horse could go."
"But wouldn't that be extremely dangerous?" an aide asked.
Aly shrugged. "It would be exciting."