Friends in Pakistan

Harsha Apr 24th, 2014

This is an article I wrote in 2004. Since then Twitter has happened and while I have had my share of brickbats and irrational accusations from people in Pakistan, I have been fortunate to reach out to cricket lovers as just another cricket lover. I now have many friends there that i only know through 140 characters!

It is just next door and yet it is the unknown land; similar in clothes, cuisine and culture but coloured by propaganda, myth and lies. With Pakistan, there is no grey, often no white, just a mass of black and that cannot be true. Sometimes you can create a wall and lose a neighbour.  I often wonder if things would have been different if Kargil hadn’t happened. It was an act of lunacy,  it planted boundaries into the hearts of normal, sane, liberal men. Sahir had once written for Guru Dutt “zameen ke khatir yeh jung kyon hai”. But there was no place for romance, lots for innocent blood.

But when emotion and prejudice take over, there is little room for anything else. Not all Germans were Nazis, not all Australians are sledgers, not all Americans are gentle and peace-loving.  Not all Pakistanis have a gun in their hand.

My memories of Pakistan were coloured too. By the war of 1971 when, as a ten year old, I heard Indira Gandhi say that Indian air force bases had been bombed and when our little Gnats outdid the mighty Sabres. Or so we were told. By the stories my mother told me of fear in Lahore in 1947 and of returning on one of the army trains. India hadn’t yet been partitioned but they already spoke of “returning”. By the fact that my grandfather wore chest pads that my grandmother stitched as he cycled to work in Lahore. I had also heard of how people in Amritsar went to Lahore to see a big city and of how my father, on his way back by ship from Paris had stopped over in Karachi and had been very kindly received by people having only recently migrated from Hyderabad.

In 1997 I got the opportunity of finding out for myself. I would visit the Anarkali Market near where my mother lived as a child and I would bring back some chilgoze for her. And I would visit the other Hyderabad.

We weren’t in a hotel there; neither was the team. They stayed in the cantonment under the hospitality of the Pakistan army and we stayed as house guests. Our hosts took us to dinner to the Hyderabad Club, showed us how drinks could be poured out of a kettle and after a few had gone down told us “bhai, sirf aapke nahin hamaare bhi pachas saal hue hain azaadi ke“.

Lahore could have been Delhi. Same cars, same roads, same clothes, same chaat. And the Pearl Continental was outstanding. Walking by the shops, wondering how different the prices there would be from those in the markets, I was pounced  upon by a  man from one of the antique shops. “Aap wahi hain na, jo Sahara Cup me aate hain” he said and I appreciated the “aap” which is how it was in my Hyderabad. “India se aaye hain?”. “Ji haan” I started but before I could continue he had taken over the conversation “Phir to aap hamaare mehmaan hue. Chaliye Lahore dikhate hain aapko”.

And so I found myself with a complete stranger in a country I had apprehensions about. I had heard about the fine cloth they sold and wanted to buy some for my wife. We went to four shops in each of which I was introduced as “India se hamaare mehmaan hain” and neither of which I could leave until I had partaken of their hospitality. I had the mandatory chaat and a ‘special’ ice-cream before we found the shop we were looking for. A very polite man showed me all he had, recommended fabric heartily and while doing so asked “Kaun jeetega? Hamaare to waise chalis pachas hazaar hote hain match pe?” “Itne?” I asked a bit bewildered. His answer floored me. “Sochiye aap, agar ham hi itne lagaate hain to bananewalon ne kitne banaaye honge!” The next evening the fabric I selected, with a dupatta acquired from elsewhere was delivered to my hotel room. I had paid on trust.

The Gaddafi Stadium was packed the next day and while walking around between commentary stints, I ran into a policeman on duty. He asked me the inevitable “India se hain aap?” When I said yes, he promptly reached into his pocket for a little trinket, thrust it into my hesitant palm and said “dene ke liye mere paas kuch nahin lekin yeh chhoti si cheez yaad ke taur pe le jaaiye. Apne logon se kahiye Pakistan me bhi dost hain.”

Till Kargil happened that is what I remembered Pakistan by.  A simple man with a simple gift and a large message. By the time this cricket tour ends, I hope to return to that memory.

But can romance once again erase bloodshed? Can the thoughts of common men replace those of scheming generals? Can sanity wriggle in and scream louder than madness? There is much that this cricket tour can do.