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It?s same, yet a different world

Conversation with a group of young Pakistani boys started with cricket and ended up with Kashmir, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2004 20:56 IST

On Tuesday night, on the eve of the Indian team's arrival in Lahore, I had, what for me was a rather surreal conversation with a group of young Pakistani boys in the hotel lobby. One of them, Javed Abbasi, came and introduced himself to me and asked if I was Indian and connected to the cricket team.

I replied that I was a reporter, so he introduced the others and we began chatting. It started with cricket, skimmed over the status of women in Pakistan, whether India was shining and ended up with Kashmir. But it wasn't an ideological discussion on Kashmir. They said they were tired of it all. They all wanted to see Srinagar, because they had heard it was very beautiful.

"Now that the maahoul is better, maybe we'll get visas," said Shahid. The situation in Kashmir was still discussed at length, whether the situation had really improved or was it all a BJP ploy on election eve.

Mr Shah, a sales manager from Islamabad, laughingly talked about how India and Pakistan had to come together to offset the gora influence. He spoke of how he was in the final stages of getting an immigrant visa to New Zealand when the Karachi bomb blast happened a couple of years ago. “I got a letter from them very soon, returning my $450, saying we can't give you a visa.” Lots of us went to court but to no avail.

"How can you get a visa?" another youngster joked. “You’re from a terrorist country and plus, you're Kashmiri.” I paused a minute, unsure whether to laugh or not. No one else had any such scruples. And then the talk turned to India.

From what I gathered, for middle and upper class Pakistanis here, India is much like the Promised Land. A land of free-markets, free-thinking, a rocking, happening place.
They get all their impressions of India from Bollywood movies and pirated editions are available in every corner shop, sometimes even before the Friday release in India.
And damn the issues in between the countries. Everyone blame the politicians. There is no great hatred or obsession with India as such, but there is a great curiosity to know about India. From the salaries to the resorts, to the hemlines and the metropolis.

Everyone wants to meet Bollywood stars. And cricketers. The difference is that they're not queuing up to mob them, like in India.

Even on the flight from Karachi to Lahore a couple of days ago, there was no sense of fierce nationalism that many of us from across the border associate with Pakistanis. I was sitting near a young man called Saad, a fast bowler with the u-17 team. Saad and a group of other boys (including the captain of the victorious u-19 World Cup team), was on his way to high tea with the Governor of Punjab. So I asked him whom he idolised, Shoaib Akhtar or Wasim Akram — the usual suspects here. Pat came the reply, “Shane Bond, he has the straightest action I've seen.”

Pakistani youngsters — at least those from the middle class — are more or less like youngsters from the Indian middle class. Remember Shikhar Dhawan declaring that rather than Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid, Andy Flower was his ideal batsman for being able to tackle any situation?

They are all confident, self-assured, very sure of what they want and go after it with single-minded determination. It's a world of I, me, myself. Our side of the border or theirs.

First Published: Mar 11, 2004 00:51 IST