Debating India


The Great Cricket Urs


Monday 22 March 2004, by PRATAP*Anita

Indians and Pakistanis do things in extreme. So also with the cricket bonhomie.

What we’re watching is an Indian invasion of Pakistan. It’s funny that it is cricket that has thrown open the doors-more likely sluice gates-for this torrent of Indians pouring into Pakistani soil. It’s funnier to watch Indians arrive by modes of transport suspended only two years ago: in buses, trains and planes. But the funniest of all is that Pakistanis are applauding even louder than the Indians at this invasion.

How times change! Till now, Pakistanis were raving and ranting against a mythical, virtual, potential Indian invasion.

But now, they’re cheering louder than anyone else imaginable. Indians were expected to arrive on Pakistani soil in jet fighters and tanks, armed with rifles, bayonets, missiles and even a nuclear bomb or two. Instead, they arrive in hordes armed with strange intangible things like goodwill, friendship, enthusiasm, bonhomie and merriment. In the event of an invasion, Indians were expected to loot and pillage. Instead, they are the Big Spenders, arriving with wallets bursting with strong rupees, splurging on shopping and eating sprees. Till now, Indians in Pakistan were confined to TV screens, Bollywood videos, posters, newspaper columns, seminar halls and, of course, to the Indian High Commission. Now they are crawling out of Pakistan’s woodwork. In stadiums, hotels, malls, offices, restaurants. They are everywhere. If this is not an invasion, what is?

Invasion, after all, is not confined to armies. It can range from locusts to air waves. The only difference here is that it is a benign invasion. It’s arrival on invitation, so of course, technically and legally, it is not an invasion. It was something waiting to happen, delayed for decades as Indian and Pakistani establishments saw greater value in hostility. But the winds of peace have blown away old-fashioned notions-at least for now. As the citadel’s iron gates finally crank open, the rush is immediate, intense. The much-needed safety valve has been released. Bottled-up good feelings and intentions surge forth.

Excessive enmity has evaporated, replaced now by excessive love. We are extremists by temperament. Either we starve or we overeat. Either we hate, or we adore. Either we ignore or we lavish attention. Pakistan was our worst enemy yesterday. Today they are our best friends. Such wild swings. Nothing in moderation, everything always in excess. The behaviour seems suspiciously close to obsessive, compulsive disorder. It’s an India-Pakistan disease. Both are equally vulnerable to this malady. Don’t for a moment think we’re the only ones gushing and going overboard. Pakistanis are no better. Every spring, citizens of Lahore go berserk when they celebrate the annual kite-flying festival. This year, the Indo-Pak cricket paroxysm surpassed its fever.

All this Indo-Pak bonhomie is not confined to bowling and batting, clapping and shouting, laughing and hugging, eating and shopping. Love is usually the first step to productivity. There is some hard-headed economics aiming to anchor this new-found friendship. Decades of rivalry throttled the awesome trade potential between the two countries. Trade is hugely and unquestionably beneficial. It’s the surest win-win equation for both and yet has been kept hostage by poisonous politics. Pakistan has enough surplus sugar and textiles to give India and India has enough engineering and technology goods to give Pakistan. There is a rainbow spectrum of fields in which both can benefit through cooperation. Using cricket as an excuse, many hard-nosed Indian and Pakistani businessmen are trying to cut deals. The stakes are high and the pickings rich. If the establishments on both sides are sincere, trade, now a paltry $200 million a year, can skyrocket to an unbelievable $12 billion.

But all that’s in the future and given the obsessive, compulsive nature of both sides, what’s certain is nothing is predictable.Mood swings can happen suddenly and without warning. Right now it’s the silly season of fun. But even here, it’s only a matter of time when a mood change, if not a mood swing, is inevitable. Right now, gushy Pakistanis are enthusiastically welcoming their estranged Indian cousins. But in a few weeks they will get claustrophobic and tire of the Indian invasion. They will crib of a perverse reverse cross-border day-to-day terrorism of sorts. Traffic jams, litter, shortages, queues are all very dislocating and irritating in the long run. The steady groans of drudgery will replace the fierce pulse-thump of romance. The honeymoon will end and both sides will yearn not necessarily for divorce, but an amicable separation.

Very soon, Pakistanis will be yearning to see the Indians go home so they can have their country to themselves. The Indians will readily oblige as they themselves will be yearning to go back home. Indians are not invaders at heart. They’re traders. And of late, party-goers. An Indo-Pak match is a great party, but after the hustling and the cheering, the Chawlas and the Kapoors, the Shahs and the Patels, all want to go home-to their own hearth, routine, peace and home-cooked meals. If by the end of the series the Pakistanis wonder what on earth made them welcome Indians in the first place, they should for their own mental hygiene remind themselves that things could have been worse. The invasion could have been bigger. Most Indian cricket fans do not have the money or the means to cross the border. And it may be a blasphemous thing to say during the Sacred Festival of India-Pakistan Cricket, but not every Indian is interested in cricket. Unbelievable, but true. And so millions of Indians have not even considered making this pilgrimage to Pakistan. Just think what it would be like to have a billion Indians crawling about in Pakistan. That’s not a party. That’s a catastrophe. A systems breakdown. And Pakistanis can be grateful they were spared that nightmare.


Outlook India, Tuesday, March 22, 2004.

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