As the India-Pakistan Cricket match approaches, the usual frenzy around the sport has reached its zenith. Baba and I were marvelling at the three Asian countries reaching the semi-finals, a rare occasion when he (pro-Pakistan politically) agrees with me (pro-India naturally). When he started commenting how fascinating it was that none of the Western countries had made it, I added how the three – Bangladesh, Pakistan and India were basically one country and had managed to excel at a sport not originally of their making. His nodding head in ecstasy is a cherishable moment now.
Not everyone agrees with the match being played. This time there is a demand of displaying our angst against the “Pak-sponsored cross-border terrorism” by cutting sports and cultural event ties. Rational voices retort that politics should not be mixed with sports and cultural events. Other saner and visibly disturbed voices make a distinction by demanding that the only way India can show it is serious about countering the Green Terror on its borders and inside is by standing up to the Pakistan establishment while not demonising the largely secular and civil population. In this medley of voices, those directly affected by the conflict have to sift through the rational and the hyper-nationalistic and try to gain some perspective.
As I see it, the cross-border terrorism is to end the way of life that a secular India displays, maybe not exactly at grass root levels but definitely in showbiz, sports and cultural levels. That there are interfaith, inter caste, inter-creed people in all spheres of life has been the biggest strength of the “idea of India”, me proudly being the living proof of it. A culture of literature, music, performing arts and fine arts, sports and cinema pervades the ethos of India which it can proudly say is famous internationally. Not to mention the cultural ties it has created with our subcontinental cousins. I pick up one aspect of this culture, say cinema and can’t help but marvel that we have come a long way from the stigma of nautch girls, and the Elizabethan era practice of males playing female lead roles. That till a few decades ago when post-Partition, Madhubala, Waheeda Rehman and other stars of the 1950s and 60s were reigning supreme and brought a sense of connection in the times of such horrendous trauma, there were families who still considered it a shame for women to go up on stage.
In my hometown of Srinagar where girls bands have fatwas issued on them by the sharia-imposing, Hurriyat-endorsed azadi brigade, it is a matter of pride that those very bands find recognition in Indian universities and music studios. This goes equally for boys/men who want to pursue music as a career and are generally frowned upon as the derogatory “faggots” for not taking up the ‘manly’ responsibilities of the family through a salaried job. The performing arts are the worst sufferers in these smear campaigns, as used to be the fine arts until the azadi brigade saw the usefulness of the medium to put forth their one-dimensional demand for “regressive” aspirations. There will be many who will cite that sports are the only field where men and women are being given an equal chance to show their talents, be it Pervaiz Rasool in the Indian squad or little Tajamul Husain bringing laurels in Taekwondo internationally, the thing is, these are, as of yet, exceptional cases and far from becoming a norm.
Yet as progressive civilisations go, trends have a ripple effect and slowly, painfully and gradually the mindsets, vis-a-vis the youth taking up careers of their choice, even vocational ones, are changing. In this march of time do we really need to show our displeasure, our diplomatic severity by not playing cricket? Instead, why not actually step up cultural ties and showcase the liberal, progressive side that the other country has been downplaying to its masses? We all know how the mullah-military-industrial complex kept the Pakistani population in the dark before the advent of social media. I recall seeing Pakistani female airline pilots, cops, truck drivers, cab drivers, and martial arts instructors on the media and realising there was a whole lot to the otherwise jihadi populace we had in our minds who were getting our boys killed. There is a funny anecdote of my childhood when Wasim Akram burst on the cricket scene in the late 80s and all my cousins started mockingly shouting Akram whenever I took the run up to bowl when we would play cricket in the playground. I was a left arm fast bowler and to my male cousins’ chagrin a good wicket-taker (a double insult me being female and all). Wanting to see who this player was, I switched on the TV and as he came up on screen, could only derisively say, “Well, he looks a lot like Chunky Pandey!”, (a Bollywood actor making a debut at the same time).
Cut to the new millennium, I am old enough to see through the moolah raking industry of the IPL, the match-fixing scandals and celebrity status of players, a far cry from the Gentleman’s Game we grew up on. It doesn’t stop me from recounting the skills and long bat of Sir W. G. Grace to my son or mentioning the greats – Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Gary Sobers, Malcolm Marshall, Clive Llyod, Courtney Walsh’s debut, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and India’s first World Cup win or Imran Khan’s campaign for his Cancer Hospital through his World Cup win. So as the day dawns when cricket fans both sides of the border will go crazy and the TV ads add to the frenzy of the political rivals with their MahaYudh (Great War) clips and memes, let it not be forgotten that there are going to be little Akrams and Tendulkars sitting in front of TV sets and thankful for their countries where taking up sports as a career is a mainstream career choice and where despite the skirmishes and full-scale battles on the borders, the cultural ties show the future where we want our neighbourhood countries to be – vibrant, culturally alive and extremely competitive in sports.
May the best team win!