September 12: A middle-aged Rotarian cricketer in Calcutta picks the September 12 Outlook issue and spills his tea when he reads that Lt General Syed Ata Hasnain is using cricket to transform a troubled Kashmir. He daydreams and thinks aloud, “If Kashmir is really safe for cricket, then how about taking a team from Calcutta and playing across in the Valley?” He writes a brief request to the Lt General on playing cricket across India’s Iron Curtain and is surprised with the reply, “Most welcome. You will be guests of the army. We will take you to play cricket all across Kashmir.” Man Friday was dispatched to the nukkad ki dukaan for smelling salts immediately.
November 4: Some 15 club-level cricketers fly from Calcutta to Srinagar. Probably the first instance of a civilian cricket tour of the most militarily sensitive region in the world. Only three of us have been to Kashmir in the last 25 years; and only three have not been to London in the last three years. Some perspective. We are in blazers, looking quite cricket-corpo. People turn around to give us those looks; we feel kind of eyebrows-arching important. “Oh, holiday, right?” “No, no, actually to play some cricket.” “What, cricket? Kashmir? You guys part of some BCCI scheme? Who is funding your tickets? What, you’re not going for any tournament-shournament? You mean you have taken off from work to go and play kids half your age? Do you do this often?” And, “Just a minute, why Kashmir of all places?” We are enjoying this third-degree.