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  • They won too and convincingly

    Posted On March 26, 2004

    By Karan Thapar

    India won the cricket series but Pakistan, I think, has won our hearts. You only have to skim the reports from Karachi, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Lahore to realise I’m not exaggerating. No doubt we are still astounded. After all, being swept off one’s feet is a shock. But we’ve been won over. I have little doubt of that.

    “There are few countries in the world where an Indian is made to feel special”, The Times of India exclaimed on its front page on thursday. “Strangely enough, Pakistan, the only one that has done battle with it four times, is one of them.” In her exuberance the writer might have forgotten her grammar but she marshalled her facts in compelling order. “When you say you’re Indian, strange things happen. Faces break into smiles, doors fly open, rickshaw drivers ask you home, cyber cafés waive away hours of use, tea is called for, Pepsi bottles are uncorked, invitations to lunch and dinner are proffered.”

    The Times was not the only newspaper to be smitten. A columnist on the prestigious op-ed page of The Express was no less ecstatic. “A Pakistani asks for my nine-foot Indian flag. I’m apprehensive ... He grabs it and runs around the stalls with three friends, waving it high, shouting ‘Hindustan zindabad’ ... when we start winning the match one of them says to me, ‘match jeet lo, par dil dey doh’.”

    Such sentiments would be difficult to believe of any country. It’s particularly astonishing to read them as the response of Indians visiting Pakistan. Would we have grabbed the Pakistani Star and Crescent and waved it around at a cricket match in Eden Gardens? Would we have cheered Inzamam if he was slaughtering Pathan? Would we have said to the winning side – not just Pakistan but even Australia or South Africa – match jeet lo, par dil dey doh? Not likely. But most of all, could anyone in India have shouted Pakistan zindabad precisely as Pakistan was beating India? Forget it!

    Yet this happened and a lot more as well. That’s why I say Pakistan has won our hearts. Cricket, of course, is important. That’s why the team, its fans and the rest of us were there. But games are easily won and lost and who can tell what

    will happen in the tests. Hearts, however, are conquered with greater difficulty and conceded less easily. Pakistan’s, I suspect, is the more lasting victory.

    We went to Pakistan expecting a narrow-minded, fundamentalist and India-hating country. That, after all, is what we had been led to believe. What we found was an open, friendly people, liberal and welcoming, but above all else just like us. “If our gaalis are the same” The Express points out “how distant can our roots be?”

    I don’t know where the ‘old’ Pakistan went. Perhaps it withered away or grew up. “We’ve been changing for twenty years” is how Zohra Yusuf, a Pakistani human rights activist, explains the transformation. “But you haven’t been looking or, at least, you haven’t been seeing. This time you took it in and that’s why you’re surprised.”

    I think Zohra’s being kind. I suspect the old Pakistan never existed. May be it was a fiction of our politicians or a creation of our press. Either way, it’s been laid to rest.

    The truth may be difficult to accept but today is perhaps the best time to do so. Over the years we, in India, have become anti-Pakistani and, yes, anti-Muslim too. In comparison Pakistan was never to the same degree anti-Indian or anti-Hindu. This is why we’re so astounded and delighted by the real Pakistan. This is also why it’s bowled us over.

    But since we’re being honest I should add there’s something else as well. Some of our response is conditioned by guilt. We had no right to believe the worst of the Pakistani people but did. Now we’re atoning with an exuberance of emotion. erday will not fade easily.

    Tomorrow, of course, the excitement will abate and sobriety set in. When that happens we will recall that their government remains antagonistic and harbours terrorists. And politics still divides us and, perhaps, always will. But the memory of yest After fifty years the people of the subcontinent have embraced each other. We may not be the same any longer but we’re not that different either. In fact, we have much more in common than separates us. Contempt for our politicians, to begin with!

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