Being the only Pakistani amidst a hall full of Indians when Pakistan loses
a cricket match can be… interesting
Over the last ten years, the one thing I have avoided most is watching a cricket match between India and Pakistan. I just don’t have the nerves anymore.
Little did I know that on the day of the much awaited India-Pakistan T20 encounter I would end up being in London, the only Pakistani in a hall full of Indians.
I was attending the India Forum at London School of Economics, which had a great line-up of speakers on media, politics and business. Sachin Pilot from the Indian National Congress was waxing eloquent on the sloganeering of the BJP government, that he termed a victim of its own propaganda when I sensed a buzz in the crowd.
I turned to the undergrad students behind me and asked them who won the toss. The girl said, “We won the toss”.
“India or Pakistan?” I asked.
She just repeated “we” with a gleeful expression on her face. I told her I am from Pakistan and would like to be updated on the score.
Then began a hilarious sequence of events. There would be a tap on my shoulder from behind – aap ka aik out (one of your’s is out). Then another tap – thank God your Afridi is out. Given the serious discussion on stage, neither could I express my frustration nor could they shout out with happiness. It was probably the only Indo-Pak cricket encounter that fans were following in such silence, muted excitement expressed with smiles and raised eyebrows.
At the Forum, the discussion shifted from politics to media. An eloquent Anupama Chopra and passionate Kabir Khan, director of the celebrated Bajrangi Bhaijan, were talking about the potential of film to promote a positive image. There were some whispers in the audience wondering how a director who aced it with Bajrangi Bhaijaan could do a Phantom – but that’s a different creative liberty debate for another time.
At the end of the conference, the announcement that India won the match drew loud cheers from the crowd. An even louder and bigger applause met the announcement by Director South Asian Center LSE, Mukulika Banerjee that next year, Indian and Pakistan society should have a joint screening of an Indo-Pak cricket encounter.
After all these years of seeing an Indo-Pak cricket match as a war, it was refreshing to see young, level headed South Asians for whom this is a game – a sport where the best team wins. For the first time probably in the history of both these countries, social media was abuzz with people changing their profile pictures to support the other team. This has to be an interesting evolution for a generation that has grown up on “Indian enemy” and “Pakistan enemy” rhetoric.
This is a decision we have made on our own. We want a relationship with the neighbour that is based on mutual respect and co-operation. Perhaps this generation has developed some critical thinking by being exposed to other perspectives and not just the one-sided literature taught in our schools, on both sides.
This shift was noticeable in the way the discussion at the Forum focused on challenges that need to be solved within the country. It was more about reforming from within, tackling issues of massive population, education and health rather than pointing fingers across the border.
The two countries are going through a lot. India is struggling with the whole discourse on intolerance while Pakistan is trying to emerge from the impact of the war on terror on its economy and people. The worst and biggest challenge for peaceniks however is dealing with hawks on both sides that are present in the media, politics and society.
Every time there are any issues – cross border tensions, war of words, terrorist attacks, spies arrested – we are called upon to justify our patriotism. We refuse to be discouraged. We will keep calling for rational discourse. All the hard work by activists and intellectuals over the years has borne fruit. This is evident in how young people don’t shy away from questioning governments and policy makers. We can see through the empty rhetoric and media sloganeering.
Rather than bashing the enemy, the youth on either side want their own countries to prosper first. Detractors would like us to focus on the incomprehensible poison and hate speech being spewed online and offline. But hope combined with sustained efforts has brought us to the present times, where an Indo-Pak match is no longer a battlefield. Hope and perseverance will ultimately bring us to a time where both nations can work together for a prosperous South Asia, where people are more important than politics.
The youth is key here. Well played, young people of Pakistan and India!
The writer is a communications specialist for development and a former television producer currently doing a degree in media and communication governance at LSE. She credits Dr.Meenakshi Gopinath of WISCOMP in India for turning her in to a peacenik. Email: [email protected]