Wednesday, September 29

Pakistan cometh

So Pakistan's tour looks extremely likely to take place. Come February 2005, and our new-found buddies will pop across the border- from what should be a tough trip Down Under for them. Much like the prelude to our tour to Pakistan earlier this year. It's great that they'll play here, but I wonder.

I wonder if we will be able to extend to them the same (virtually) unabashed hospitality that they did to us. In March-April 2004, there was nothing but warmth about anything the Pakistanis did, said and (well, for that matter-played!). The cricket face of it was evident enough, with the players' welcomes and security. But stories abound of how the average Pakistani on the street, taxi, restaurant and stadium made a Herculean effort at making the visiting Indians feel comfortable. And we did.

As one of those thousands that went across for the matches, I was constantly struck by how friendly everyone, including strangers, behaved. Most significantly, in the stadium. I was at Lahore for the last two ODIs-both of which, amazingly for me, we won. In Match#4 I was in the Imran Khan enclosure that had at least a 50-50 balance between the Indian and Pakistani fans. If anything, the Pakistanis were probably a little outnumbered. In the final match, I was diametrically opposite, in the Raja Enclosure. The crowd here was a bit different. There was, at best, 20% that was Indian, the rest was a sea of green t-shirts, salwars and paint. I was watching it with one Pakistani friend who I had made all but two days ago. I did stop, for moments in the match, to just notice this. Notice that I was in Pakistan, in Lahore, in Gadaffi stadium, a lonely blue in the midst of overpowering green. Yet, not once did I feel odd. Not once was I intimidated by 'old-enemy' supporters surrounding me. Not once did I wonder if it was ok to jump out of my seat, cheer, and cheer loudly.
I did wonder if we could provide the same atmosphere back home. Instinctively, I doubted it. Now, months later, the doubt returns. I cannot say I am an authority on Indian crowds by any means; I have watched matches at but 2 venues in the country. But I have rarely seen a crowd in India that is sporting to the extent of being exemplary. My impression is that we are a loud, mildy aggressive but overpowering bunch (as fans) whose confidence grows exponentially with numbers, and whose mood deteriorates as quickly in the face of defeat. We don't have to create in ourselves good behaviour, for I believe we are generally speaking capable of that. We do have to create the ability to rise a little. Rise beyond the age old rivalry that will play itself out in front of us, and enjoy watching the match with them.

Oh, another memory. I found myself defending Shoaib to many Pakistanis, who thought he was a hyperbolic showman not capable of doing much! I thought it was a tad crazy- an Indian In Gadaffi Stadium explaining why he thinks Shoaib Akhtar is an important part of the team...to a Pakistan cricket fan! I thought it was bizarre, but I enjoyed its implications. I enjoyed that I could do it, and I hope I can do it again.

I don't believe we are rude, inconsiderate or generally rowdy. What I do doubt is if we can not only maintain our composure, but enhance it. If we can clap when a Pakistani plays a good stroke, smile genially at a green shirt when there is eye contact, smile ruefully at them when we lose a wicket, pat them on the back if they do well, and say 'mubarak ho' if they win. I hope we can, but I don't know if we can.
When the fans troop across (as I assume they will), I hope to make them feel as wonderful as I did. And while I know I am not in the minority on this, when (if!) the proverbial stuff hits the Pavillion roofs and India is not doing well, I hope we can all suppress the passion a little and elevate the khatirdari.
After all, it is also in India that mehmaan bhagwaan samaan hai (a guest is akin to God).

[ On second thoughts, I definitely hope I have to 'defend' Mr Akhtar to a pakistani visitor, because it'll mean we are thrashing him around the park again! ]

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