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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Friday, February 18, 2011

When Holland hosted an India-Pak cricket game (Part 2)

In the previous (first) instalment of this 3-part story, I had talked about some of my experiences at an India-Pakistan cricket match at Amstelveen, Holland. That was one eventful day and I feel the need to have to split the story into three parts, each with its own story to tell.

Anyway, onto part 2 now. In the 24 hours that have passed since the publishing of the first part, exactly one person has evinced interest in part 2. That’s very encouraging – and already one more than I was expecting! ;-)

To recap, I was in Amstelveen, Holland, on the 21st of August 2004 to watch an India-Pakistan one-day international cricket match.

I have promised to keep the match narrative short and I shall try to do so.

Not that there is much to talk about anyway. It turned out to be a reasonable disaster of a game.

For one, it rained for a good part of the morning, so the game started a couple of hours late. It had to be curtailed to a 33-over game (from a 50-over game).

Pakistan batted first and, except for some exceptional bowling by Balaji, it was one-way traffic as Pakistan dominated the Indian bowling. India’s son-in-law-to-be (by virtue of the Sania Mirza connection), Shoiab Malik, was particularly impressive.

The chase was never going to be easy for India though Sehwag and Ganguly did make a decent effort upfront. But when Rahul Dravid got run out (not grounding his bat, I might add!), as a result of a freak direct hit from Inzamam-ul-Haq (of all fielders) right from the long-on boundary straight to the keeper’s end, it pretty much sums up the cricket for you if you are an Indian cricket fan. Yes, it was just that type of a day.

India got roundly thrashed – and that is all I am going to talk about the cricket. If you are really into checking the scoreboard, you can find it at

Now, onto the main story for this part.

Like I said, it rained a lot that morning and there was practically no play till almost 1.00 p.m.

While a lot of people were missing the cricket, personally, I did not mind the rain very much because it gave me an opportunity to walk around a bit and meet up with the celebrities. I could always see a cricket match again in my life but when would I get a chance again to talk to Mandira Bedi and Kapil Dev? (not sure I’ve got the order right there, not if I claim to be a cricket fan ;-)).

So I was doing just that when I realized that it was lunch time and I had better grab something to eat before the game finally did start.

What I had not reckoned with was the food arrangements. To be fair to the KNCB (the Dutch cricket Board responsible for the event), they could not have foreseen such a crowd. There was just one covered tent-like structure, housing all the food items available (a lot of them were Indian/Pakistani cuisine of course). It was a buffet system, but since the tent was bursting inside with the crowd, we had to wait outside to get our chance to get in. And boy, that was some queue outside!

I was getting hungry but I had no choice. I just had to wait like everybody else.

In front of me, there was this middle-aged gentleman, with a little boy of about seven clinging to his arm. From the look and dress of this gentleman, I guessed he was of Pakistani origin.

Since there was nothing we could do except wait, he decided to engage in conversation with me. He was really nice and soon he was telling me everything about himself, his family, how he had moved to England from Pakistan, how he missed Pakistan, all that. I listened with a lot of interest – it may surprise some people but I am a reasonably decent listener and I do love listening to such stories.

Anyway this was going on for a while, and you can call me dumb, but it was not until he began saying things like “jaisa hota hai na, hamaare Pakistan mein” and “aakhir hamare Pakistan ki khushboo”, that it struck me that this gentleman was laboring under the impression that I was a fellow-Pakistani.

Now it was not the first time that I had been mistaken to be of a nationality other than Indian. In Europe, I have been mistaken several times to be Turkish. And, in the Middle-East, people have spoken to me in Arabic assuming me to be a local. Even in India, in the immigration queue at the airport in Delhi, I was told years ago to stand in the foreigners queue based purely on my looks.

So being mistaken for a Pakistani was not strange in itself – but it came as a shock at the moment of realization. What’s more, I suddenly realized that such had been the bonhomie created by then between us that springing the news to him, at that reasonably late point in our association, that my origins were from across the border might not have been the best way to proceed, if I wanted the conversation to continue without awkwardness. No, I am not suggesting that he had anything against Indians. But the nature of the conversation until then had given me every reason to feel that his comfort was clearly linked to an assumed common nationality.

Maybe I should have come clean with him then and there and just let things happen. But I could not bring myself to do this. He was SO engrossed in the conversation and I somehow felt that there was no need to rock the boat.

So I went with the flow. Never once did he ask me what my country or place of origin was. So I did not have to lie to him at all. That would have been difficult because I am a hopeless liar. But when I did have to speak (which was thankfully not very often), there was a fair spattering of Urdu thrown in. Although Urdu is my favourite language, my Urdu is pretty pathetic but the other option would have been Punjabi – so Urdu it had to be.

I still remember, after all these years, some of the words I used. I remember throwing in words like “awaam”, “milkiyat”, “tabdeeli”, “maslah”, “lutf” and one of my favourite Urdu words “muqtalif” (I use this word whenever I can!). I remember saying Hindustan instead of Bharat or India. Throughout I was extremely uncomfortable though - I am very surprised he did not notice how much I was squirming. All those years of listening to Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics and to All India Radio’s Urdu Service were finally beginning to pay off.

Finally it was our time to enter the tent – it could not come soon enough for me. And not just because I was really hungry by then. I was glad to say “khuda hafiz” to him and attack the food.

At that point, I thought I had seen the last of him. Not quite. When the match got over, Pakistanis all around the ground (and many on it since they had invaded the pitch) were celebrating. They were in no hurry to leave, they wanted to savor the moment. The Indians, on the other hand, had already starting making a move towards the exit well before the game got over and in any case were in no mood to hang around.

Although I stayed for much longer than most Indians (more on that in part 3), when the crowd began to dwindle, I too began making a move towards my car.

Just as I was nearing it, I saw him again. This time he came running towards me “Mubarakaan, mubarakaan” (congratulations!), grabbing my outstretched hand (meant for a handshake) with both hands. “Itni jaldi tashreef le ja rahe hain aap?” (You are leaving so soon?).

I said “Haan ji, kuchh zaroori kaam aan padaa hai” (Yes, some important work has come up). And I beat the hell out of that place. At that stage in the evening, though he came across as a really nice guy, I just did not have the energy to go through another exhausting play-act performance.

When I think about it now, it is not an experience I am particularly proud of. Technically I did not lie but I did contribute to his wrong impression and to that extent it does not feel very right. Although it is such a silly thing that it is not worth thinking about. In fact it was one of those experiences that you would typically see on Seinfeld (most probably happening to George).

In any case, it made for a memorable experience and the fact that I still remember it, to a fair degree of detail after all these years, just shows how strongly it has taken bed in my subconscious. And to think that I usually cannot remember what I had for dinner last night! Talk about selective memory!

So that was another interesting experience on the day that Holland hosted an India-Pakistan cricket game. Far more interesting than the game itself, for sure.


avdi said...

Ha Ha! That just shows how closely India and Pakistan are linked. So near and yet so far.

I learned Urdu through the movies, lyrics and Urdu service too. I used to love love the Urdu service. Both AIR Urdu service and the BBC one. I miss the radio so much.

raja said...

Yes, there's a lot in common between India and Pakistan. Hopefully these common elements will prevail over all the differences between the two countries.

As for Urdu, I just LOVE it! I used to listen to AIR Urdu service in the 70s, not just for songs (where you would hear "mauseekhi" and "nagmanigar" instead of "sangeetkar" and "geetkar") but also for cricket commentary. That's where I learnt words like "tabdeeli" and "umda". :-)

Bharath Hemachandran said...

Vintage raja post :) Descriptive and full of fun.

Really enjoyed this a lot!