Dubai: As the lady in the ubiquitous Pakistan green shirt settled down for lunch at the Mall of the Emirates here on Sunday afternoon, I told myself: ‘Ok, there’s at least one other person at the food court right now who is also headed to the cricket stadium.’ Minutes later, a young man in the Indian team’s unmistakable colours joined the lady in green. And I told myself: ‘India-Pakistan fans getting cosy even before the first ball is bowled! Not bad at all.’
He, born of Indian parents, and she, of Pakistani descent, both born and brought up in the United Kingdom, now united by love and – you guessed it right: Cricket. Young professionals Qadir and Ayesha have flown in all the way from London to Dubai to catch India and Pakistan slug it out in the Asia Cup. While Qadir is quite a globetrotter -- having watched 19 India-Pakistan matches across the world in the past -- for Ayesha, the September 19 match at Dubai Cricket Stadium was her first brush with live action at the ground between the arch-rivals.
“I didn’t even have a Pakistan shirt. So I had to get one for myself after we reached Dubai and my first experience watching these two teams live was simply amazing,” Ayesha said.
“England is our home, but India-Pakistan our heritage,” Qadir said, followed by a quick bite of the burger.
Qadir’s parents are originally from Maharashtra in India, who later moved to the UK before Qadir was born. On the other hand, Ayesha’s mother is from Lahore, while her father is from Amritsar, who moved to the other side of the border post-1947.
The Qadir-Ayesha love story and cricket camaraderie involving the two South Asian nations separated at birth are as old and familiar as the tale of Partition itself. There are so many like this couple across the globe who have embraced the ties that bind – in terms of culture, cuisine, cricket-cacophony and more – well and truly beyond all the bloodshed and hatred that politics between the two nuclear-powered neighbours has come to be identified with over the last seven decades.
About an hour later on Sunday, as I was busy soaking up every ounce of a high-octane rivalry at Dubai Sports City’s cricket stadium, I was myself amazed at the way two nations could gel so well and with such elan. Chants of “Bharat Mata Ki …” melding seamlessly into a “Pakistan Zindabad”; a foot-stomping rendition of A.R. Rehman’s “Vande Mataram” effortlessly synching with an Atif Aslam chartbuster. There was so much of light-hearted banter all around: Rival fans taking a dig at one another – all in good humour; sometimes seated next to one another, sharing a bottle of water or that occasional praise or concern for the other team like a true-blue lover of the sport, keeping allegiance to shirt colours aside for a few seconds. But never a word in bad taste, never one irresponsible comment here or a gesture there that could have soured the mood.
It reminded me of what Qadir had said earlier in the afternoon. “What I really like about the fans in Dubai is the kind of warmth and the spirit of friendship they share. I have been to a lot of India-Pakistan matches in many other parts of the world and I am at times shocked to see that there is so much of animosity between the fans. But in Dubai, India-Pakistan fans share so much of bonhomie. It’s amazing.”
To that, Ayesha’s take was simple: “I think it has a lot to do with one’s upbringing. Sometimes we are fed with ideas by elders that can and do tend to condition our judgement and shape prejudices.”
“That’s very true. At the stadium in Dubai, I actually met two guys who, despite being from two different countries, have practically grown up together in UAE and at the match, they were seated next to each other. There just couldn’t have been any bad blood between them,” Qadir explained.
In diplomatic parlance, we have often heard about a ‘Track Two’. Listening to Qadir and Ayesha and while at the stadium on Sunday, I wondered: What better way to try and foster a ‘Track Two’ than promoting such off-the-cuff, people-to-people contacts like the ones at vogue all across the Dubai Cricket Stadium.
For seven decades, security personnel on both sides have paid with their blood for the intransigence of a political game of one-upmanship; for seven decades, innocent civilians have been held hostage and have had their blood spilled by merchants of terror and peddlers of extremist ideology; for seven decades, countless attempts at initiating bilateral dialogues of peace on both sides have come a cropper in the face of dastardly acts. And for seven decades, the narrative of Indo-Pak relations on the political plane has continued to be an all-too-familiar tale of a ship stuck in the doldrums, with little or nothing to show for tangible results.
Adherence to diplomatic protocol, nuanced foreign policy arbitrage and appeasement of pseudo-nationalist sentiments on either side of the border have all failed to alter the script, though they have all promised to be harbingers of change.
And that is so very unfortunate.
All the more as roars of Chak de India …” and “Jitega Bhai Jitega, Pakistan …” seem to caress each other and make room for one another with such an element of familiarity that only filial ties can guarantee. A cricket match between the arch-rivals seems to have just the right ingredients to serve up a feast that appeals to palettes on either side of the political divide. This is also very much possible over a plate of biryani; this is possible over a rich repertoire of cross-border ghazals, this is certainly possible with Bollywood films and sitcoms from both sides of the fence. The list is long.
But politics has failed both the nations miserably, because it has always put too much weightage on the term ‘border’, failing to realise perhaps, that borders are just lines on maps. Ask Qadir and Ayesha!