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Far away, both savour unity on table

The crowd may have been 'starting to lift' in Karachi, but it remained sedentary in Southall, Middlesex, at Chaudhry's TKC restaurant.

india Updated: Mar 17, 2004 01:45 IST

The crowd may have been 'starting to lift' in Karachi, but it remained sedentary in Southall, Middlesex, at Chaudhry's TKC restaurant. India had stormed to 349 in their 50 overs and Pakistani prospects of victory were slim. There were 10 of us gathered before breakfast, silent, in front of the screen, watching the most significant cricket match played in recent times. It looked as if it could only be a damp squib.

The commentary and pictures were from Sky, but the adverts were from Euro-Asian channel ARY. A conflation of 'gold blend' adverts turned out to be not for coffee but for chewing tobacco. I chatted to Salem Mehar, who has watched Pakistan all over the world. 'India v Pakistan in Sharjah is the most electric.' In 1998, Mehar took a mixed Indian and Pakistani team on a tour of both countries to celebrate 50 years of independence.

With cricket becalmed, the talk turns to politics. 'Pakistan was the only country that benefited after September 11. The surplus grew from $300million to $12billion. The economic cycle is getting better, the defence budget has shrunk, infrastructure is better.'

A farmer's breakfast - chickpeas with semolina pudding and fried puri - is doled out, a piece of largesse from Dalawar Chaudhry, who comes into his restaurant smiling. When Pakistan and India visit, he drives his curry bus to the grounds and serves up his food free of charge. 'It is not official. We just offered our gestures.' He often hosts cross-community dinners. 'We give them a complimentary meal and a sense of importance. And we share something common between us, which is sport.'

His love of cricket goes way back. 'My father, God rest his soul, when he was a boy used to host these dinners.

On Tuesday, with six Indian friends and six Pakistani friends, he was to travel to Pakistan to watch the remaining matches in the one-day series. 'We are going to Pakistan to set an example. We will be taking a big "Solidarity" banner. We need to plug in the point that we should not be divided. If these countries can get together, there will be dynamics. They are both rich in culture, rich in resources, the populations love each other.'

As we talk, Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam-ul-Haq are batting Pakistan back into the game. The restaurant crowd grows to several dozen and perks up. It is just possible that Pakistan might score more than any other team in history to win a one-day international.

'They talk about crisis with this cricket,' says Chaudhry. 'Is no crisis. All cricket has to do whenever it is having a bad day is call India and Pakistan and get them together and solve your cashflow problems.'

On the verge of astonishing victory, Inzi is out. 'The action replay is brought to you by Kesser Jewellers.' Pakistan need 41 from 26 balls. 'Time for Azan in London' flashes on the screen, suggesting that Muslims should go and pray. No one leaves. A six is needed off the final ball. Javed Miandad gestures from the dressing room that Moin should play it over cover. He can't deliver. 'The best team won,' Chaudhry said.

First Published: Mar 17, 2004 01:45 IST