Memories make the world, a world where you remember and also forget. How uncivilized and nasty Pakistan is, I was told by my aunt in the context of cricket. I was young and living in a world of centuries being made, wickets being taken and no matter what the match situation, a hero would always emerge, who would be from my country, India, and we would win.
The only country which did not believe in fair-play, I was told, was Pakistan. I heard that once, when India were on the verge of winning a match, the Pakistan captain had concealed nails in his hand and on the pretext of shaking hands with the Indian players, injured them, so that they could not perform well the next day.
My first experience of Pakistan was in 1997, a full-grown adult who had seen and watched enough cricket and, because of my profession, had interacted with the "other" so often that it had made me less rigid and more open to accept a different point of view.
That tour, where India played three one-day internationals in Pakistan after a gap of almost eight years, was a life defining experience. There were no enemies there, except the demons in our minds. We only had to say 'India' and a red carpet would follow. Yet, I can never forget the face of a child, who was crying inconsolably after Pakistan's defeat in Karachi. I patted him and asked him why? "I am told we should never lose to India," was his answer.
India went again to Pakistan in 2004. I was there for the Lahore Test and the reception that we got was unbelievable. Politics and cricket had got intertwined and cricket had become a vehicle for peace and an instrument in bridging a divide. We lost the Lahore Test and instead of pinpricks on offer, people wanted our autographs.
The memory of that sobbing child unable to come to terms with losing to India was now being juxtaposed with the images of being treated like a film star by people who had beaten our cricket team.
I went again to Pakistan in 2006, travelled extensively there, thanks to the cricket tour and, minus all the dosti hype of the 2004 tour, was still treated like a friend, a guest who should be taken care of. It was also a sign of changing times, with the two nations accepting each other and cricket getting precedence over worrying too much about personal relationships getting affected just because one was vocally supporting one's own team.
When one looks at India-Pakistan cricket history and the hostilities accompanying it because of our past history, the last decade or so has redefined the way we look at each other. Thanks in many ways to cricket.
It is hopefully a sign of better times that this time around when Pakistan are here once again, the focus is entirely on cricket and not on what the game can do to help the two countries come closer to each other. Now, when the players from the two countries shake hands, I see in it a genuine warmth and do not try to look for that concealed nail that could hurt the players from my country.