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Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022
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Memoirs

An Indian In Pakistan

'How does it feel?' 'How was it like?' and my answer has always been 'Nothing different, it's as chaotic as India!' And that is the truth to me - apart from the obvious Muslim majority in the streets, I feel totally at home in Pakistan.

An Indian In Pakistan
| AP
An Indian In Pakistan
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

I have been to Pakistan several times and have often been asked ‘How does it feel?’ ‘How was it like?’ and my answer has always been ‘Nothing different, it’s as chaotic as India!’ And that is the truth to me - apart from the obvious Muslim majority in the streets, I feel totally at home in Pakistan.

One of the more surreal experiences in my life has been witnessing the change of guard at the Wagah border from the Pakistan side. Not once but twice. Patriotic sentiments ran high amid the theatrical show of strength. But, while watching my fellow countrymen across the border, I got this very strange, mixed feeling of separation, yet being at home while standing on Pakistani soil.

I happened to have a chat with a man who comes there every day. He lives in Pakistan while most of his kin happens to be in India. His request for a visit has been refused several times due to lack of paperwork and he has finally resigned to fate. He writes to his relatives and now his only chance of catching a glimpse of them is across Wagah’s iron gates. He has been doing this for years and has the energy to do so for many more. After I spoke with him, my mind wandered to Freedom At Midnight, and its many pages devoted to the logic, or the lack of it, of drawing the infamous line across the heart of the sub-continent that gave birth to Pakistan.

Last year, I was fortunate to be there to witness history - India’s first cricket tour of Pakistan in nearly 15 years. Cricket broke through several layers of tension. It was a time of great festivity and camaraderie, of union and celebration. There were scenes unimaginable in the past - Indians and Pakistanis walking arm in arm, fans having painted an Indian flag on one cheek, a Pakistani one on the other. Indians were welcome wherever they went and the locals were more than hospitable. To me, this is how it was meant to be. It was a friendship tour, the proverbial thawing of the ice. The two governments had taken a step closer and the masses from the two nations spread the message of brotherhood, albeit willingly and spontaneously.

But the more important parameter of our common brotherhood, to me, are the times when I have been to Pakistan as producer of cricket tours that did not involve India. When I just happened to be an Indian in Pakistan. Those are the times that our neighbours were not meant to be nice to me. But, crucially, even on those occasions, I have been greeted with warmth and welcomed with open arms wherever I went. In fact, they opened up more when I said was Indian.

I will never forget the one occasion when I suffered food poisoning and the Pakistani team doctor took personal care of me. Whenever I was passed onto someone else, it was with a footnote saying ‘He is our guest from India, take good care of him’. Not once did I feel lonely or neglected.

I started on the wrong foot with the rather elderly national pitch curator of Pakistan - former Test cricketer Agha Zahid. We later had a chat to clear the misunderstanding and since then he insisted on introducing me as his barkhurdar to all his colleagues and friends. I was deeply touched when I found out that it translated to ‘son’.

Sikander Bakht, the former fast bowler, is one of the most hospitable Pakistanis I have come across. When I wanted to acquire some Pakistani outfits, he went out of his way to get me a Pathani salwar kamiz and a pair of Peshawari chappals, locally called ‘chawat’. He even took me to his traditional tailor at Zammama street in Karachi, who happened to have done Shahid Afridi’s marriage outfit, and got him to stitch my suit in double quick time. I proudly brandished them at a family reception in Delhi before many admiring eyes.

But, let’s be honest - I have had a few unsettling moments in Pakistan as well. Ramiz Raja once told Sanjay Manjrekar and me that as Indians, we are always being watched. That was a creepy feeling. It was unnerving to drive past several lanes of shops in Peshawar that sold a wide variety of guns and pistols off the shelf. These parts of Pakistan fall under the Federally Administrated Tribal Area (FATA) the ruling body of which is the ‘Jirgah’ - the Pakistan equivalent of a panchayat. A deeper knowledge of the ‘madrasas’ intrigued me. These Islamic religious schools offer free education, but importantly, free meals and clothing. The students, mostly children of parents who cannot offer their progeny anything better, are called ‘talibs’, and are the breeding ground for what we know as the Talibans. That sounded like a pretty serious supply chain!

But, whatever the state of affairs there and the tensions between the two countries at a political level, my personal experience is that on a one-to-one basis, there in no animosity between the people of the two nations. So, when a passionate cricket fan lured me into one of those famous conversations that involved Sachin and Inzy playing for the same team, my mind could not help but wander into ‘what if’ zone. If not anything else, this imaginary team would certainly have given the Aussies a serious run for their money at the top of the ICC cricket rankings.


Chandradev Bhagat produced the Indo-Pak series in February-March 2004 for Ten Sports.

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