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Saturday, February 19, 2005

The healing touch of cricket

Should India play cricket with Pakistan? This was a much-debated question before India's tour of Pakistan last year, and I'd presented both sides of the argument in a piece on Cricinfo ("The humanising factor"), unsure of what the right answer was.

One one hand, I'd pointed out, sport, like war, is a zero-sum game, and one side has to lose for another to win. Human progress, and diplomacy, on the contrary, are positive-sum games, where everybody can benefit. Sport, thus, can be like "mimic warfare", as George Orwell once put it. This is particularly a danger with India-Pakistan games, which often give too much scope for jingoism.

On the other hand, sport gives a human face to people from the other side, and helps us feel warmer towards them. People of both countries have constructions of the other nation which are caricaturish and false. Actually interacting with people from the other country, seeing them in the flesh, helps to dispel those mythical images.

So which point of view do I now hold? The second one. Last year's tour was a massive success in terms of bilateral relations, and the people of both countries ended it feeling warmer towards the other one. What was especially stirring was the welcome Indian journalists and spectators got in Pakistan.

Sambit Bal writes in his column in Cricinfo that a senior Indian cricketer recently expressed a worry to him. "I just hope," Bal quotes him as saying, "[that] we, as a nation, are able to reciprocate in kind to the manner Indians were treated in Pakistan when they toured last year." Bal continues:
It's a fear palpably felt by every Indian who set his or her foot in Pakistan during those magical days. Like us, he had seen doors and hearts open, he had felt the warmth and goodwill which was too spontaneous to have been a put-on, he had seen the Indian flags flying proudly in the stands, seen pictures of Indian revellers on the streets of Lahore, and like us, he too is left wondering if India can match the grace and the hospitality. Will we see Pakistani flags fluttering in our grounds? Will we see a procession of Pakistani bikers on our streets? Will we able to celebrate the event of cricket, irrespective of who wins?

The early signs – the pitch at Mohali being dug up, the arguments over Ahmedabad as a venue – haven't been encouraging, but once the cricket starts, hopefully that will change.

Saeed Naqvi wrote a wonderful piece yesterday in the Indian Express which also demonstrated how cricket can bring people together. Describing a local tournament in Gujarat, he wrote:
The tournament has been a unique effort in healing communal wounds. Each of the 64 teams has been composed of Hindus and Muslims in equal numbers, more or less. As Mehboob Chacha observed, stroking his long, grey beard, selecting teams in such a communally charged atmosphere was not easy. Mehboob Chacha is part of Janvikas and Yuva Shakti, groups which provided the sinews for much of the post-pogrom relief in the area. He was the first to have thought of cricket as a great healer three years ago.

After the ’02 disturbances, he had noticed youngsters had stopped playing together, something they always did in his living memory. Initially it was difficult to put together a team across the communal divide. Many, on both sides, had lost relatives in the pogrom and could not now reconcile to playing together. The traumatic events had torn the social fabric to shreds.

And cricket helped put it back together. Read the full story.
amit varma, 6:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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