I had gone to Mohali to cheer my team, which I did to the maximum capacity of my vocal chords, but I am bitterly disappointed at our captain’s lack of sportsmanship and grace. The small group of Pakistan supporters, who had managed to reach Mohali despite all hurdles, never for a moment, felt any hostility or animosity, other than the expected sporting rivalry.
In Mohali, the security was tight but courteous. When we passed by boisterous Indian fans outside the stadium, sporting our green shirts and waving Pakistani flags, there was some hooting and thumbs-down gestures, but there were also friendly handshakes. Inside the stadium, the green-flag bearers were a tiny island in a sea of tricolours. But as true Pakistanis, we compensated our miniscule numbers with spirited and full-throated slogans. India fans queued for photographs with the ubiquitious Chacha Cricket, in his Pakistan-flag kurta. He was accompanied by a Sikh cheerleader with white flowing beard and a tricoloured kurta. He was baptised as ‘Taya Cricket’ by the crowd.
There were more illustrations of this spirit. Whenever the official Punjabi band played the dhol, the Pakistani and India fans danced to the same beat. There was a similar response when Bollywood or Punjabi bhangra songs were played in the stadium. However, the organisers could have included a Rahat Fateh Ali Khan or Atif Aslam hit, instead of the saucy “Munni Badnaam Hui”. Pakistani fans were pleasantly surprised to hear the Indian crowd singing Allama Iqbal’s poetry “Sare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara”. When Aamir Khan arrived, there was loud and unanimous applause from the crowd. The good-humoured mood of the crowd was displayed in the handwritten posters such as the ones that said: “Good luck Pakistan for 2015, the 2011 World Cup is ours,” and with slogans like “Aapas ki baat hai, Umar Gul hamaray sath hai”. Outside, the residents of Mohali and Chandigarh were out in the streets celebrating, in true Punjabi style, their team’s victory amid bhangra and fireworks. The ‘spirit’ of Mohali was flowing freely till the wine stores ran out of supplies. The last impression of this spirit was an Indian police commando, with his face covered by a black scarf, who stopped our car with a stern gesture. Our driver had violated the one-way rule in order to bypass the people dancing on the roads. The commando grimly surveyed the vehicle, which was full of Pakistani flags and green-shirt passengers, giving menacing looks from his partly visible eyes. There was a dramatic pause and then, suddenly he started doing bhangra in front of our vehicle and signalled us to drive on. “This must have been the spirit of Mohali”, I thought. But sadly, one could not bring that spirit as a souvenir!
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2011.