The real final of the World Cup

Published: March 26, 2011

The writer is director of Kali for Women, India’s first feminist publishing house, and author of several books including The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India [email protected]

My ten-year old nephew is a steadfast fan of the Australian cricket team. So in our house, there wasn’t much celebration when the Australians lost to India in the World Cup quarter finals. But we must have been the only home in our locality, and very likely elsewhere, where the reaction to the Indian win was a bit muted. Elsewhere there was jubilation and celebration. It wasn’t only the fact of India’s victory, and that they had defeated the long-standing champions, but that the real match would now follow, between India and Pakistan. And what’s more, that it would be at Mohali — the venue of the last major contest between the two.

I remember a friend describing the last India-Pakistan match at Mohali, Chandigarh’s neighbouring town. Some 4,000 people came from across the border to watch the match — enthusiastic fans all. The spirit was one of celebration and bonhomie. Anxious to match, and perhaps to outdo, the famous Pakistani hospitality, all shops and establishments in Mohali and Chandigarh were decked out with lights and colourful streamers as if the whole city had prepared for a wedding. Goods were offered to the ‘mehmans’ at half price, sometimes less, sometimes for free. Cold drinks and chai and snacks were on offer in every shop and roadside dhaba or fancy restaurant. The chief minister hosted a party for all cricket fans — anyone who had a ticket was invited. And there was a general spirit of goodwill around. It didn’t really matter who won, it mattered that the match was being played.

Something of the same excitement is palpable in India today — after a long period of hostility and cooling off, the two countries are once again beginning to talk, or to hesitantly open up to talking. On both sides officials have already been in touch post Thimphu, and have set an open agenda for the next round of talks. The cricket victory could not have come at a more opportune time — indeed I think there would have been disappointment all round if the two teams had not got the opportunity to face each other. As the Pakistan players said, they were actually hoping India would win, precisely so that they could then play India.

Keeping up with the spirit of friendship, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced that he will be watching the match and has invited both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to watch it with him. Whether they’ll accept the invitation or not, remains to be seen, but the important thing is that it has been extended.

It’s important to remember though, that much has changed since the historic moment at Mohali. Some of the change has been positive and some not. In sports for example, India-Pakistan matches are no longer a rarity, and thanks to things like the Indian Premier League, cricketers from the two countries have actually played on the same side. Nor are matches between the two now couched in the terrible and hostile rhetoric of nationalism. Instead, spectators are happy to watch, and to cheer the best team — so perhaps it would not be wrong to say that the players and their faithful followers have begun to actually see the game not as a contest between nations, as much as a contest between players and teams. This, I imagine, is what makes my young nephew support Australia — he just thinks they are a superior team. Nationalism doesn’t even enter the picture.

At the political level though, such maturity seems a somewhat more distant dream. Even though our leaders on both sides know very well there is no way other than dialogue and open relations with each other, the process of getting there is always mired in the one-step-forward-two-steps-back dilemma. Of course it does not help that terrorism is a very real fact of life in both countries, both internally and between them. And yet, it’s a measure of how much people actually want a normalisation of relations that every time the dialogue opens up, people are hopeful that this time there will finally be a breakthrough.

In an odd kind of way then, the game of cricket has become not an excuse for an expression of violent nationalism, but a hope that this may lead the way to a normalisation of relations. In the same way, years ago, business people from both sides put pressure on the governments to jump or put aside the political agendas and at least open up trading relationships — for if nothing else, that could help to bring about a semblance of normalcy, and the rest could then follow.

All of these are strategies about which ordinary people know little, but on which they nonetheless pin their hopes. I’ve never been a fan of cricket, for example — if you give me a choice between watching a cricket match and reading a good book, I’d choose the latter every time. But this cricket match means something even to a person like me, and I’m waiting with some impatience for the 30th of March when it will be played.

As the countdown begins to that day, I think back to the Mohali match and the goodwill it generated. I recall a story told to me by a friend — not really a cricket fan — she’d gone to the match because she was interested in India-Pakistan relations, and because she was writing something about a well-known family of Pakistani origin. Not even in her wildest dreams would she have imagined that she would find members of that family next to her in the audience at the match, nor that she would actually find herself talking to them. But she did!

This was, of course, a random encounter. But it is of such encounters that tales of goodwill are often made. Who knows, there may be many such encounters at Mohali but even if there aren’t, what’s important is that the match will be played, and we can only hope that it will be played in a spirit of friendship.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2011.

Reader Comments (19)

  • Ven
    Mar 27, 2011 - 1:16AM

    So your nephew is sad that India won and Australia lost the match, despite him being an Indian. I can understand you don’t have to raise your kids to be jingoistic, but I think this is unpatriotic and quite a shame that you are bringing up your kids in such a way. Correct me if I’m wrong. Whether you are a pakistani or Indian, a person should love his home country first and the rest comes next.Recommend

  • Mar 27, 2011 - 1:32AM

    yes, this should be the spirit. I hope this match some generates good will!Recommend

  • Mar 27, 2011 - 1:34AM

    generates some good will **Recommend

  • S.Wahab
    Mar 27, 2011 - 4:59AM

    Very well written,This is how we need to look at it.positively.It may create the desired effect to improve the relations between these two Nations.I know that the only course left to them is to talk and sort out their problems one at a time.I am hoping some thing will come out of this meeting as Mr Gailani is said to have accepted the invitation.Winning and loosing should not be problem for any one of them.Good LuckRecommend

  • Indocanuck
    Mar 27, 2011 - 5:40AM

    This bonhomie will last till the next “terrorist; attack, and then the two of you (Indians and Pakistanis) will be gunning for each others’ throat again..you guys deserve each otherRecommend

  • divine pony tail
    Mar 27, 2011 - 6:56AM

    Great read/completely agreeRecommend

  • MOHAMMAD KHALID
    Mar 27, 2011 - 8:07AM

    *we aske our lord to help pakistan both semi final and final
    relation with india can improve when kashmeer become an independent stateRecommend

  • ashok sai
    Mar 27, 2011 - 10:09AM

    So for we went more than half a mile for piece, let us watch how Pakistan responds.Recommend

  • Up in the sky
    Mar 27, 2011 - 10:10AM

    I agree with author’s goodwill that these matches should nurture friendship and support for the better team over nationalism but to say that the attitude has changed to people only supporting the superior team shows that the writer is unwilling to accept or narrate the on ground realities.
    This has not changed and every Pakistani or Indian watching the Wednesday match would want their respective country to win. Sorry, but to watch and cheer the ‘superior’ team is stilla distant dream Ms Butalia!Recommend

  • akash
    Mar 27, 2011 - 12:03PM

    @author.. may be its all nice,sweet and mushy for you.. but hope you have not forgotten mumbai.. because many of indians like me have not.. lets this just be one india- pak match.. nothing more or less.. whoever wins plays final.. thats all it is.. giving visas to so many pakistanis is just headache for us and our security system.. and as far situation between india pak goes.. nothing is going to change till pakistan supports and harbours terrorist against india like hafiz.. and dawood.. please dont compare terrorism in india with Pak which is always supported by pakistan.. Recommend

  • Mar 27, 2011 - 1:37PM

    Shiv Sena and its leader, the old and wily Mr. Bal, won’t be having a good night’s sleep until India defeats Pakistan in this match. If Pakistan wins, sponsors will wilt away, Bal will go crazy and our Prime Minister, who is surely heading to India for this match, won’t have to look sad. But he might just have to look steady when Tendulkar plays Shoib Akhtar in the last great contest between two of the greatest players of our times. Recommend

  • Saqib
    Mar 27, 2011 - 2:49PM

    @akash Please don’t parrot your govt’s voice regarding Mumbai attacks, as it is a well known fact that it was done by Indians themselves. The ruling Indian Congress leaders have accepted that. I pity you on your lack of knowledge and your attempt to portray that everything that happens in India is because of Pakistan.

    I for one believe that Mr.Gilani should never have accepted the invite. Our PM should have asked Singh an assurance that India answers to the blood that our people shed in Samjautha blasts, terror activities inside our own country and occupied Kashmir, and the water warfare that India has launched killing thousands of our people.Recommend

  • Nurmomad
    Mar 27, 2011 - 3:53PM

    As far as Narendra Modi remains chief minister of Gujrat, and as far as parrots get killed for “anticipating the truth”, there is little to expect from Indian “friendship offers”.

    Play the match. Win. Play the final. Win.

    that’s the message for Pakistani team.

    Jo jeeta, wahi sikandar :-)Recommend

  • Ani
    Mar 27, 2011 - 4:58PM

    @ saqib:
    Who can deny such Great analysis and research as yours.
    You forgot to mention some other nuggets from your deep research.

    Taliban are CIA agents
    LET is a RAW organization
    Al Qaeda is a peace loving movement
    Afghanistan is actually part of pAkistan
    Tsunami in Japan is a HAARP project
    Qadri never killed Salman Taseer
    Bhatti assassinated himself
    Benazir Bhutto is still alive Recommend

  • Sane
    Mar 27, 2011 - 9:02PM

    @MOHAMMAD KHALID: Learn to spell Kashmir first before claiming it!Recommend

  • Mar 27, 2011 - 10:33PM

    The match is not between Pak Taliban and Indian Shiv sena, nor between ISI and RAW and neither people of India and Pak. These matches are on commercial lines and the advertisement charges are Rs.3.8 million for 10 second slot. This is the major money spinning event that is why whole world is looking at it and media is hyping so much. Our poor people do not get this much excitement even if there is real war between the two nations. We live in dreams and fantacies. Recommend

  • Raj
    Mar 27, 2011 - 11:49PM

    @Saqib : Thanks for sharing the facts and enlightening all Indians visiting this forum as well as your fellow Pakistanis. Ani has provided few more facts in reply to your post. I am sure if you are not aware of those, you will appreciate his effort and add them to your future posts. Well there are few from my end as well.

    The massive floods and earthquake in Pakistan has been caused by American scientists from a secret lab in Alaska by powerful machines discovered by them mainly with the aim to make Pakistan suffer.

    The Israelis, Indians and US people are planning a huge conspiracy to break Pakistan into small nations with a future plan to colonize them.

    In fact this is not the first time they are trying such things. They did the same in 1971 and disintegrated Pakistan to create Bangladesh. The Indian army along with the Mukti Bahini traitors killed and tortured millions loyal Bengalis of Pakistan inspite of valiant effort from Pakistani army to protect those people.

    The harassment of Pakistanis in Bahrain is nothing but planned effort by RAW and CIA to add to the sufferings. This is one of the latest fact that has been unearthed and the criminals of such activities have admitted these themselves.

    Pakistan is the only country which gives equal value to all religions in spite of it being officially called as Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Such example of communal harmony is very rarely found across the globe. But the western media is hell bent in denying the same and deliberately defame Pakistan. And that’s why you will find lot of prejudice against innocent Pakistanis in other countries.

    There are plenty more and probably I will enlist some of them in my future post. But what we need to understand is that these are hardcore facts . The Indians , US and other governments have accepted their deeds. All of us should condemn such barbaric acts of non Pakistani nations. Once again my Salaam to you for sharing the truth with folks here and lets continue this good practice for future discussions as well. We should know the truth and conspiracies conducted against Pakistan by communities across the globe and should make an honest attempt to stop the same.Recommend

  • Mar 28, 2011 - 12:03AM

    In sports for example, India-Pakistan
    matches are no longer a rarity, and
    thanks to things like the Indian
    Premier League, cricketers from the
    two countries have actually played on
    the same side. Nor are matches between
    the two now couched in the terrible
    and hostile rhetoric of nationalism

    As far as I remember Pakistani players have not been playing IPL since 2 seasons. Thanks to the IPL management and Indian Govt.

    I don’t agree with this paragraph. Recommend

  • akash
    Mar 28, 2011 - 4:43AM

    @saqib: your comments are best suited for some stand up comedy gig. People like you have made pakistan a laughing stock in world.
    and if so concerned about samjhota file an FIR in pakistan.. send us evidence.. do your own investigation.
    by the way whatever you and your govt knows about perpetrators of samjhota was found out by Indians.. and India will also punish the guilty and share with pakistan. because we follow rules.. we are a democracy.. we work by international laws. so dont even compare..Recommend

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