1997: An Indian in Pakistan
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1997: An Indian in Pakistan

It was with a mix of nervous apprehension and hope that one landed in Karachi on a pleasant September evening in the year 1997.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2004 02:57 IST

It was with a mix of nervous apprehension and hope that one landed in Karachi on a pleasant September evening in the year 1997. Pakistan, for a few cricket journalists from India trailing the team's week-long tour of that country, was unknown territory -- an alien land, an enemy state.

When the immigration official, in a stern voice, asked us to show our passports, our faces became taut with tension and heartrates jumped to dangerous levels.

He had a good look at the passports and seconds later, said with a huge grin: "Oh! Journalists from India! Have you come with your cricket team?" On getting an answer in the affirmative, his now relaxed visage glowed with warmth. Short of actually hugging us, he tried to do everything to put us at ease.

"You should have been here when the Indian team arrived. What a reception they got from the hundreds collected outside!" he said while wishing us all the best for our stay in his country.

Once outside the airport, it was difficult to make out whether one was in Delhi or Karachi. The chaos, the traffic and the sea of humanity, it was no different from being in India.

As the taxi zoomed at breakneck speed through the crowded roads, the taxi driver, on coming to know our nationality, switched on the stereo. Alisha Chinoy's "Made in India… saab se pyara mera India," greeted us.

Our first impressions of the place set our minds at peace and also set the tone for a very enjoyable experience, especially for those who were not burdened with prejudice.

Karachi, the venue for the second of three one-day internationals, has a violent history and the Mujahadeens (people who migrated from India during Partition) are viewed with suspicion, even hatred. It is here that India won their only match of the brief one-day series, with Rajesh Chauhan hitting a six to put a thrilling end to a very tense game.

And it was here on match eve that I met an old man -- owner of a photo studio where I went to get a mandatory snap -- who wept and wept after I said I was from India. He was originally from UP and had "migrated after a wave of hatred and suspicion swept across the country".

"We thought we would get killed in India but once here, I realised what a blunder I had made," he said. "For 16 years I longed to go back, did no work here but alas, like thousands of others, I could not get a visa from your government. Mein 16 saal tak aisa chatpataya jaise ek panchi apna ghosla chchod kar chatpatata hai (For years I agonised like a bird without his nest)," the old man, with tears streaming down his face, told me his story of pain and suffering.

The next day's headlines suggested that skipper Sachin Tendulkar, by his aloof and indifferent behaviour towards journalists and admiring crowds, had not exactly endeared himself to the people. The match itself was marred by a stone-throwing incident, though in the end, nothing serious happened.

A stage came in the match when Ravi Shastri, in Pakistan as a TV commentator, was so annoyed at the stone-throwing by some unknown spectator (in an obvious minority as the crowd sat in stunned silence till the match resumed) was heard saying: "I will go back and tell Thackeray that we should never come back here again."

There were many among the Pakistanis --- former skipper Zaheer Abbas for one --- who believed "the stone throwing incident was a deliberate attempt to malign us".

As it is, the self-imposed curfew that the Indian players had imposed upon themselves made the Pakistani press and people angry, even suspicious of the team. Therefore there were many takers for this bizarre explanation.

Even earlier, as our caravan moved from Karachi (where we landed) to Hyderabad in Sind for the first game, the word India became a password with magical qualities.

Shopkeepers would insist that we don't pay them and people would go out of their way to please us.

In the heat and dust of Hyderabad, Pakistan won the first match. Still, it was the bus with Indian players that was mobbed by the crowd as it left the ground. People shouted slogans like "Tendulkar zindabad, Azhar zindabad."

Lahore, a city that is an almost exact replica of Amritsar, saw another Indian defeat, with Ijaz Ahmed playing an innings of such brutal force that many that day were reminded of Vivian Richards at his lethal best.

Back in the hotel room and preparing to leave for home the next day, I had Pakistani guests. We spent the whole night debating -- at times heatedly -- why was there so much suspicion among the two nations. There were no easy answers, the only thing I came back convinced of was that the people in Pakistan desired peace. There was no hatred for us.

Today, while my memory may be playing a trick or two with me, there is one incident and a face that haunts me. After India's win at Karachi, I saw a boy (not more than 10) crying inconsolably. I asked him why and his wailing reply was: "We lost the match, that's why." On being told that in sports these things happen and he should not take it so seriously, he replied: "Log kehtey hain ke humme India se nahin harna chahiye (People say we should not lose to India)." I shook hands with him and told him 'I am from India, and I am no jin (devil)." He smiled. We parted.

The boy must now be an adult and hopefully, should be one among the thousands who will come to watch India play his country next month. And going by my experience of his country, I am sure he is eagerly waiting to embrace the Indian team, regardless of who wins or who loses.


India in Pak: 1997

The Team: Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Vinod Kambli, Robin Singh, Saba Karim, Debasish Mohanty, Abey Kuruvilla, Harvinder Singh, Nilesh Kulkarni, Rajesh Chauhan, Hrishikesh Kanitkar.


1st ODI Hyderabad Sept 28: Pakistan won by 5 wickets.

2nd ODI Karachi Sept 30: India won by 4 wickets.

3rd ODI Lahore Oct 2: Pakistan won by 9 wickets.

First Published: Feb 22, 2004 02:53 IST