|Of Cricket and The Way of the Pigeon
We were born into conflicts created by our forefathers. They called themselves freedom fighters. Liberators. But, they were mere humans with human frailties, human greed and thirst for power. The last word on their stupidity has not yet been written. It is easy to blame the problem on others, colonial rule, Britain’s divide and rule policy and what have you. But, it was ultimately our people, our very own self-serving so-called leaders, who couldn’t see beyond their personal ambitions, narrow religious divide and tunnel vision of their time.
It is difficult for me to even visualize how, only half a century ago, India was split into two countries on the basis of religion. To my mind it was flawed thinking and collective incomprehension of the enormity of the long-term mistake that was being made for short-term tactical gains in the power struggles of 1947. I wasn’t born then, but I am forced to carry their baggage and the consequences of their stupidity.
People were asked to choose their country on the basis of religion leading to one of the major mass migrations in the history of mankind. Millions were left homeless. Millions died. Millions of others were left to start new lives in an alien country having lost everything in the transition with families separated and destroyed. It led to a collective silence, suffering in silence, a taboo topic never to be discussed. Even the literature of the day was smitten by this collective amnesia; a traumatic silence, that smothered and hid the unspeakable brutalities which shattered the pride of a great and ancient civilization.
They did it in the name of God, and the people suffered. Thousands died in three wars and two countries stood on the brink of nuclear obliteration…all in the name of God. And, the people suffered. They were once ONE people, speaking the same language, eating the same food, and writing the same poetry. Then they were left divided. Government propaganda and vituperative public statements divided them further. For the more vulnerable sections of society, instead of education and growth, there was a downward spiral into a vortex of fear and violence, a mindless dehumanization of the damned.
The Gulf Air flight to Bahrain was on time. I had passed the rigorous Kuwait security check with less than flying colors. My wine bottle opener had just been confiscated as a dangerous weapon. As I prepared to put on my headset to listen to some good jazz, a man with a longish beard and prayer cap came up and asked me if I would like to exchange my seat. I realized that he was the head of a family returning from the haj pilgrimage to Mecca and they didn’t have their seats next to each other. I immediately gave up my seat and moved to another row.
My neighbor and new co-passenger greeted me with a shy smile. He was a handsome man with clothes and shoes that were brand new. Yes, you can make that out, can’t you?
“Do you want the window seat?” he asked with a smile.
“That’s all right,” I said as I pulled my hand luggage, “it’s only a forty five minute flight, no hassles friend.”
I slipped into the seat and looked for the headset. I preferred music to the screen. I started surfing the channels.
“Has the door closed?” he asked in a low voice.
I looked at him again, this time a little closer “No, there are still some passengers coming in.”
“Tell me when the plane starts to taxi, won’t you,” he said with his eyes momentarily closed.
I decided that this guy was genuinely scared of something. He kept looking at the door and the runway.
“They might try and get me again,” he whispered. Seeing a mark of incomprehension on my face, he told me in a soft voice, “I just got out of jail a few hours ago.”
“Just my luck,” I thought as I groped for my hand luggage to check whether it was all there. I didn’t ask him what he had gone to jail for. It was better to let sleeping dogs lie. It couldn’t have been because of drug smuggling for sure. He would then have been strung up and hung in public by now and died a horrible death. Perhaps he had smuggled in a consignment of Scotch and got caught. Perhaps……
“I was in there for one and a half years and I don’t want to go back,” he offered. “I got pardoned by the Emir during the Kuwait national day. They gave me new clothes, shoes and a plane ticket to Pakistan. Has the plane started moving?”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“I am going to Peshawar. But, first I must go to Karachi. Are you from India?”
“Yes,” I said, “ I’m going to Bombay via Bahrain. Do you have family in Karachi?”
“Nah, I had someone buy tickets for me from the jail in Kuwait.”
“I wouldn’t miss the Karachi cricket match between India and Pakistan for anything,” a broad smile lightened up his face. “We are friends now, aren’t we?”
“When had we stopped being friends,” I thought. “Yes, I said. We are now friends.”
“It’s the government and vested interests that keep us this way. Things are hard to change,” he had switched from English to Urdu as only a sub continental does, and carried on, “our fast bowlers are really fast, the very best in the world. You just wait and watch Shoib the Rawalpindi express. There are some young guns too.” His interest in cricket was genuine. “I’m waiting to watch Tendulkar in action. The best batsman in the world,’ he chuckled. “They say that he plays like Don Bradman. Have you seen him play?”
“Yes,” I said and sighed. There was no enmity here, just another normal person getting back to normality from an abnormal situation.” I’ve seen him play many times. You haven’t seen him because we never played each other for 14 years while the powers that be squabbled. Yes, he is an all time great and it is a privilege to watch him play.”
“I had a very small bunk in my cell,” he said and I saw him shiver. I used to hate the half cooked food and the lack of movement. I still can’t walk properly and my legs are weak.”
I asked the airhostess to bring him a blanket. He gave me a long thoughtful look. He had been in the rough end for quite some time. “You are very kind,” he said simply. Finally, the plane started to taxi towards the runway and the doors had finally shut. There was no way someone could take him back to jail now.
“Vested interests and politicians,” he muttered, “ these are the people who would like us to suffer." I nodded.
And, for the rest of that short flight, we talked cricket and the upcoming battle of the two sub continental rivals. Throwing a hard red leather ball and smashing it to smithereens with a Kashmir willow bat, was far better than being blown away to eternity by an A-bomb.
For the first time in history, ever since the partition of India in 1947, swarms of Indians crossed the border into Pakistan to watch the cricket matches. They were welcomed with open arms by warm and gracious Pakistani hospitality. The governments had given a window of opportunity and the people had responded with friendship.
There were still many overs to be bowled, strategies to be hatched and no quarters would be given. But the hard battles would be fought on the playing fields of Karachi, Rawalpindi, Multan and other picturesque grounds of Pakistan. The old stars, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman would shine and new heroes would be born on both sides. A ‘Pathan’ would emerge from obscurity from the Indian side and a ‘Sami’ would conquer with sheer pace of the whirlwind from the Pakistani side. A Hindu swing bowler with a big smile, called an unpronounceable Lakshmipati Balaji, would conquer Pakistani hearts and spawn a major fan club in that country. A swashbuckling Shewag would score more than 300 runs in a single innings, the highest scored by an Indian ever. An intuitive Indian captain Saurav Ganguli would stick his neck out against the sermons of the media cricket pundits and support a youngster named Parthiv Patel. Parthiv would take up the gauntlet and deliver a gem. And, India would win the first cricket series on Pakistani soil, applauded by no other than the Pakistanis themselves. The game of cricket would be the winner. Yes, all that and more would happen.
But the real game would be won in the hearts and minds of the people themselves, on both sides of the border, perhaps showing to the hawks on both sides, the way of the pigeon.