The most exhilarating part of being in Dhaka, to watch Pakistan’s quarter-final against the West Indies, wasn’t the fact that it was an extremely easy win that has sent us sailing to the semis or the fact that me, my brother and his friend, with our painted faces and Pakistani jerseys, came on TV so many times that our phones wouldn’t stop buzzing with messages from excited relatives and friends back home, or even the fact that our decisive victory was on Pakistan Day — it was the Bangladesh crowd’s relentless support for us. The shirtless man with the Bangladeshi flag painted on his forehead, ‘Boom Boom Afridi’ on his chest and the Pakistan flag on his jiggling tummy said it all.
Whether it was the group running around the stands with the Pakistani flag or the boys making fun of how Chanderpaul stood when he batted — every few minutes I would forget I wasn’t in Pakistan, that we weren’t allowed to co-host the World Cup, that our inability to protect our own citizens, let alone foreign teams, had deprived us of watching matches at home for years, and I would start talking in Urdu to the man selling souvenirs. Only to have him look at me all confused, making me realise I needed to switch to English.
And the extreme support wasn’t just because the West Indians had crippled the Bangladeshi team in their group match and then complained that the Bangla supporters had stoned their bus, it was also because, before they had an international level cricket team, their support had been completely for Pakistan. And now we were number two on their list of favourites, for the simple reason that they were once a part of us.
During the match, the Mexican wave would just not end, and after doing it for the fifth time the (only other) Pakistani next to me said — “I’ve had enough, I’m not getting up for the next one. I don’t understand how these supporters are so enthusiastic about a team that’s not theirs.” But the Bagladeshis definitely didn’t see it that way.
One would think that given how unfair West Pakistan was to East Pakistan, they would still harbour negative feelings towards us, but not even a tenth of the India-Pakistan rivalry was evident in their attitude, and their genuine love was obvious from the enquiries of where we got our Pakistani jerseys from, at least a dozen of them wanting pictures with us, treating us like celebrities and the crazy celebratory stampede we witnessed post-match outside the stadium.
When the Pakistani anthem had played at the start of the game and my brother and I were half-shouting, half-singing along, a Bangladeshi boy next to us said: “We know the words, this was once our anthem too.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2011.