Series of excerpts from Not Just Cricket by Pradeep Magazine.
As we sat in the stands after the match had finished, we saw scores of people led by a local with an Indian flag in hand, dancing to the beat of a dholak. Even outside the ground, people kept walking up to us and greeting us with smiles. For those of us who were in Pakistan in 2004, the images of that nation are quite different from what we in the media portray today.
2006: A Country in Turmoil
One and a half years later, I was back in Pakistan to cover another Test and One-Day series. During the tour, I travelled the length and breadth of Pakistan: from Peshawar and Lahore to Rawalpindi and Faisalabad, seeing the country for all its diversity and divisions. Despite the uniformity of religion, the problem of terrorism was serious and one could sense that people were despondent and anxious. This was true not just for the urban middle classes with whom we mostly interacted, but also for the poor. I remember a conversation I had with a taxi driver in Karachi who was worried about his child starting to lean towards jihadi thinking. He was worried about the influence the mullahs had on the children of the uneducated, and was envious of us Indians as he felt that we were able to educate our children with scientific, progressive methods. Pakistan, he felt, had taken the ruinous path of ‘kattarpanthi’ (radicalization).
This longing for modern education was a refrain I heard everywhere among the lower-middle classes, nearly all of whom felt that India had become prosperous because of better education. There were also the urban, English-speaking Pakistanis who had started to feel threatened by the increasing spread of fundamentalism, especially among the lower classes, and many of them wanted to move out of the country. The Pakistan cricket team indulged in public display of religiosity that many Pakistanis found troublesome. Inzamam-ulHaq, the captain at the time, was a devout Muslim who prayed five times a day as prescribed in the Quran. Most of the team began following this practice. This spread of religion in the Pakistani team was said to have been initiated by Inzamam’s predecessor, Saeed Anwar. Anwar had turned to Islam for solace after he lost his young daughter and even became a preacher during the latter part of his career. Bob Woolmer, their South African coach, did not seem too worried about this overt display of religion. In fact, he said that it kept the team motivated and together. ‘In any case, nothing is being forced on anyone,’ he said, perhaps referring to the two non-Muslims in the team: Danish Kaneria, who was Hindu, and Yousuf Youhana, a Christian. However, Youhana had by then converted to Islam and changed his name to Mohammed Yousuf, stunning the Christian community in Pakistan, which included his own mother. The conversion was often a topic of uncomfortable debate among his fans and even those Pakistanis who weren’t followers of cricket. Youhana himself had refused to join the debate, saying that it was a personal matter. However, his mother had been quoted in the newspapers expressing her shock at her son’s conversion. Had Youhana, one of the most outstanding Pakistani batsmen ever, converted to Islam in the belief that a non-Muslim could never become captain of the team, an ambition he must surely have nursed? Whatever the reasons, his change of religion had come as a shock and a disappointment to his own minority Christian community, mostly Dalit converts and living on the margins of society.
I remember taxi drivers outside my hotel in Lahore, most of them Christians, expressing their dismay and a sense of loss at what their idol had done. ‘Dhokha’ (betrayal) was the word used for Youhana’s act, and he was accused of having sold his soul to improve his prospects in the Pakistani team as well as in a society dominated by Islam. It was only while travelling in Pakistan in 2006 that I became aware of the fault-lines in a nation dominated by one religion and the dangerous spread of fundamentalism that was causing deep unrest in society. These were not evident to me on my previous visits. The most interesting part of my travel was the stay in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the first thing that struck me was the diction and the accent of the Urdu language which people spoke there. While I sat in the taxi with my wife Mukta and daughter Aakshi who had joined me in Pakistan for part of the tour, I recognized the sing-song way and the emphasis on certain syllables as exactly the way a Kashmiri speaks in Urdu. The wizened faces, the general features of the population and their manner of speaking too were replicas of those in the place I was born in. I wrote a piece in the Hindustan Times on how I had been gripped by a sense of nostalgia and almost felt as if I had traced a lineage of the majority that now lived in Kashmir. In the high-scoring, thrilling One-Day match played in the city, Tendulkar scored a scorching century to help India reach 328. But that was not enough as Pakistan won by three wickets in front of an aggressive and restless crowd that, for security reasons, had been forced to walk for more than a mile to the stadium. Our next stop was Islamabad, the national capital, a contemporary and modern city when compared to the quaint Peshawar. Islamabad had been built on barren land in the sixties, and therefore—in stark contrast to the ancient city of Rawalpindi adjacent to it— has wide roads, marketplaces and houses functionally laid out in a geometrical pattern that reminded me of Chandigarh. The match in Rawalpindi, where India cruised to a seven-wicket win, is not much more than a blur in my mind. What I remember instead is that the manager of the Islamabad hotel we were staying in had a dislike for Indians. He claimed that he had been ill-treated in India because he was a Pakistani. This struck a rare note of discord, the only time I sensed resentment towards Indians on my three visits to Pakistan. India went on to win the rest of the One-Day matches, played at Lahore, Multan and Karachi, to sweep the five-match series 4–1. One of the many lasting connections I made in Pakistan was with Osman Samiuddin, among the best Pakistani cricket writers. He understands his country’s cricket, history and politics well. Samiuddin invited us to his brother’s home in Karachi for dinner. One of the dishes he made was shab deg, a dish made with turnips and mutton. It is very popular in Kashmir among both Muslims and Hindus, and is one of my favourites. This was a period when I was reading Sadaat Hasan Manto, who is among the most celebrated Urdu writers. Manto, who had migrated to Pakistan during the Partition, wrote searing short stories that exposed the underbelly of a society and also highlighted the human cost of Partition. Later, when I read one of his letters written to Jawaharlal Nehru, I had discovered that Manto was a Kashmiri, much to my parochial delight. In the letter dated 27 August 1954, Manto referred to their common roots while criticizing Nehru for his anti-Kashmiri policies. More relevantly, the letter mentions shab deg twice. He writes: ‘Between us Pandit brothers, do this: call me back to India. First I will help myself to Shaljam Shabdeg at your place and then I will take over the responsibility for Kashmiri affairs.’ And then, near the end of the letter: ‘Every morning you will have to treat me to salty tea (Kashmiris call it noon chai) along with a kulcha. By some means Shaljam Shabdeg will have to be available every week.’
In Kashmiri, we call the dish gogji syun, and it is one more example of common cultural heritage between the two divided nations. In a food court in Islamabad, I had had another familiar dish, mounji gaad (fish cooked with a green vegetable called knol khol), which the stall had described as a ‘special Kashmiri dish’. Though I never met a Kashmiri-speaking person on my three visits to Pakistan, it was obvious in my interactions with the locals that the Kashmir issue remained a sore point that troubled them no end. The Pakistani educated middle class felt ‘betrayed and cheated’ at the Indian government’s ‘repression’ of the Muslims in Kashmir, and expressed their anger in no uncertain terms.
Excerpted with permission from Harper Collins.