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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.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

When Holland hosted an India-Pak cricket game (Part 3)

I will admit that it is with considerably reduced motivation that I set out here to continue my saga on the events of the 21st of August 2004, headlined here in previous blog posts as “When Holland staged an India-Pak cricket match”.

While I repeatedly tell myself that I do not write for an audience – and when you keep repeating something, you begin to believe in it yourself ;-) – the fact is that if you know somebody is interested in reading what you write, it does serve as additional motivation to do so.

The overall response to parts 1 and 2 of this story has been somewhat “meh” and if I hadn’t felt obligated to do a Magnus Magnusson (“I’ve started so I’ll finish” act - Mastermind), I’d probably not even bother with a part 3. After all, “no feedback” is also feedback.

But here is part 3 – and even if there isn’t ONE person interested, that’s just fine. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d be speaking to myself – and, by the looks of it, it won’t be the last. :-)

So there I was, at the cricket ground in Amstelveen for this India-Pakistan one-day international (ODI).

I have described the atmosphere a little bit in part 1 but I need to talk about it again here because it is central to the story of part 3.

Considering that cricket is a religion in both India and Pakistan, and given that it is often (sadly) used as a proxy for war, the atmosphere for any India-Pakistan cricket match is bound to be charged.

One has only to follow the discussions that take place on forums in cyberspace to gauge the extent of passion that fans of both countries have and the extent of opposition-baiting that they indulge in. As someone who has spent a lot of time in cyberspace on cricket, I can safely say and you have to take my word for it – it is ugly. And certainly not for the overly sensitive.

Now transpose this to a live match situation, where you are right there at the scene of action, in a packed stadium, flanked on all sides by not just supporters of your own team but also supporters of the opposition.

In many stadia, supporters of the two teams are seated separately. There may be many reasons to do this but one of the reasons is quite likely to be to minimize crowd trouble during the game. Fans can just get a bit too caught up in their emotions, and if there is alcohol also flowing, the odd word or wind-up can quickly snowball into a very unpleasant situation. In Holland, everybody is very familiar with this, thanks to the legendary football rivalry between Amsterdam-based Ajax and Rotterdam-based Feyenoord.

And this was India-Pakistan, easily of the same trouble-creating potential, if not more.

I do not know whether grounds in India or Pakistan have country-specific seating arrangements, but at the Amstelveen ground there was nothing of the sort. In fact, it was a very informal setting. A couple of pictures - this was not my seating area though.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As it turned out, I occupied a “ring-side” view , very close to the boundary rope. Stretching it a bit, I could have actually even stretched out and touched players fielding on the boundary - well, almost. :-) Here's an example of one such fielder, VVS Laxman, obliging fans with autographs.

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I was flanked on all sides by both Indian and Pakistani supporters.

It might have rained for a good part of the morning but the rain certainly did nothing to dampen the spirits of the fans. Many of them were not even from Holland, they had come many miles, mostly from the UK, but also from other European countries and even from the USA to watch this match.

They had come to have fun – and fun they would have, in any shape or form. There were flags of both countries to be seen all around the stadium, each one trying to outdo the other. There were fans tooting on vuvuzela-equivalents, there was beer flowing freely (as one would expect in Holland). In general, rain or no rain, everybody was having a fun time.

When the match started, the support lines got more clearly defined of course.

The Indians around me were amazingly passionate about the Indian cricket team. Far more than I was, actually. There was even a group that had come all the way from Bombay (Mumbai) – they were part of some sort of tour and were due to attend a Shah Rukh Khan / Preity Zinta concert in Rotterdam later that day. (I saw SRK/PZ sitting in the VIP area).

These Indian fans were somewhat middle-aged and were initially a bit shy (after all, they were not used to Holland) but when I started singing Hindi songs (I am always singing!), they opened up and joined me. There was instant camaraderie – nothing like Bollywood songs for bonding. 

The Pakistani support group around me was different. They were obviously very passionate about Pakistan – but they were far more vocal too. The Indian applause for a good performance by an Indian player would be drowned many times by the Pakistani cheering for a Pakistani player.

Considering the way the match went, considering there was precious little for Indian fans to cheer, you can imagine how one-sided the overall support situation would have been. I can never forget the cries of “Shu-waib, Shu-waib” for Shoiab Akhtar as he came charging in, from his long run-up, to bowl.

Somehow when we Indian supporters tried to scream from the top of our lungs for Balaji, it did not quite sound the same. Or was it just the speed difference between Akhtar and Balaji that was being reflected in our relative screaming levels?

Anyway, we tried our best. There was nothing more we could do than support our team from the sidelines. We screamed, we waved the Indian flag, and on the few occasions that our team gave us something to cheer about, we even gesticulated “thumbs down” to the Pakistani supporters. Needless to mention, we got more than our share of this from their side but that’s how the game was playing out that day. Most importantly, it was all in good spirit and was a lot of fun.

As the match progressed, and it became increasingly clear that India would be losing, the Indian fans began losing their spirit too. They began getting quiet and the flag-waving became less visible as it became almost an embarrassment.

The Pakistanis were obviously getting more and more animated. Their flags easily began outnumbering the Indian ones. I even saw Chacha Cricket (Pakistan’s most famous cricket fan, who tours all over the world to watch every Pakistani match) doing the rounds around the stadium, with a Pakistani flag.

I tried to lift up the spirits of the Indian supporters around me, but they were just not in a mood.

The moment the match got over – and that was the moment most Pakistanis were waiting for, because they knew they were winning – a whole lot of Pakistanis invaded the ground and began making their way to the presentation area.

The mood was absolutely euphoric for them, there were only Pakistani flags to be seen all over the place. Looking at the Indians around me, it was like a funereal mood.

And then I did something that shocked everybody around me.

I borrowed a flag from one of the Pakistanis around me and began waving it, alongwith the other Pakistanis.

The people sitting around me, who by then knew each person’s allegiance, were stunned. The Indians could just not believe what I was doing. I had been one of the most vocal supporters of India right through the game. And now, instead of feeling bad about India’s defeat, I was waving a Pakistan flag in celebration of Pakistan’s win?

One of the Indians even asked me “Are you really Indian?” When I said “yes”, he said “Are you not ashamed?”

Now I could have had a long debate with him on the subject right there but I did not want to create a scene – that was certainly not the place for it. I just smiled and said “No”. I could sense the Indians around me distancing themselves from me, disgusted with my behavior. One of them even said “Abhi agar ye India mein hota…” (If only this had happened IN India..).

The Pakistanis were also equally stunned. They could not have imagined that an Indian would ever wave a Pakistani flag.

But wave it I did – sharing totally in their moment of celebration.

On some of the occasions (not all), when I’ve narrated this story to my Indian friends, I’ve met with a look of disapproval from them. Some of them have only shaken their heads, some of them have called me a “pseudo-Indian” – and worse.

When I think back on the incident, and wonder, if the situation arose again, whether I’d do the same thing, I find myself saying “yes”.

The thing is, I feel we make too much of a fuss about certain things.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand how symbolic a national flag is. Waving a country’s national flag is an expression of solidarity with, of support for, a country.

So by waving the Pakistan national flag it appeared as if I was supporting Pakistan.

And yes, at that moment, I was. I was celebrating a Pakistan win, hand-in-hand with other Pakistanis there. And what’s wrong with that? Some people have told me “But you don’t need to wave their flag?”. True, I didn’t have to – but if their celebration consisted of waving their flag, I didn’t see anything wrong in joining them in this manner.

Yes, I could have continued to wave an Indian flag – and I would have gladly done so. But it was a celebration moment for Pakistan, not for India. So, other than to continue to show my loyalty to my country (which I didn’t think I needed to), there was no point in waving an India flag. It was Pakistan’s moment, not India’s. And I wanted to congratulate Pakistan.

Besides, I found no need to behave like most of the other Indians there. Yes, I was also not one bit happy that India lost. And lost pretty badly too. But I had come there to enjoy a day out, to enjoy a day of good cricket. Regardless of who’d win and who’d lose. One team had to lose anyway. It was just that Pakistan played the better cricket that day, so my team ended up on the losing side.

But the way most of the other Indians were behaving, you’d think somebody had died. If I’d not wanted to avoid a scene that evening, I’d have told the Indians around me to get perspective. It was just a game. Nobody had died.
I am not claiming that what I did was right. Maybe it is one thing to congratulate a winning side, it is another to celebrate their victory. At the end of a tennis match, the loser and winner shake hands, it does not mean they have a drink together to celebrate the winner.

I don’t know – all I know is that the atmosphere was one of fun and celebration for Pakistan and I saw nothing wrong with joining in. Throughout the match I had been rooting for India – even when they looked totally down and out. I didn’t need to prove my allegiance on this count to anybody. I didn’t then. I don’t now.

Besides, while it is a fierce contest on the cricket field – and the rivalry is great and wonderful – one should not carry this into one’s personal life, in my opinion. It is precisely this overflow, outside the sporting arena, that is disturbing and unhelpful to person-to-person contact between the two countries. Sport is sport and let’s keep it at that.

It is incidents like this that however remain in my mind after all these years.

I’d gone ostensibly to see a cricket match that day.

I returned however with non-cricketing things on my mind, questions about propriety.

Whether I did right or wrong.

By waving the Pakistan flag.

By putting on an act of being a Pakistani with that Pakistani gentleman, to make him feel at ease.

If any reader is interested at all – and has bothered to read through this whole story – I’d love to know his or her point of view. :-)

7 comments:

Mukund said...

Would I have waved the Pakistani flag? Certainly NO. But would I despise someone doing it at that moment, when India lost badly? I certainly would, if it was a Pakistani :-)

Don't ask me to rationalize the above thought. It definitely is not the love for my fellow country-men that would come in way of raising an objection to waving the opponent's flag. It's something else, and I don't know the answer.

I was at the stadium when Anwar pummeled India on his way to 194. More than quite a few Indians were applauding his knock, I didn't feel anything. But when Tendulkar got out early, Afridi, fielding in deep square-leg (which happened to be in front of our stand) turned around, and mocked at the crowd – he made a crying gesture. I wanted to kick him that moment.

Your recent blogs, especially the latest entry, took me back to that match. It also made me rationalize my feeling during the match, but like I said, I haven't found an answer.

Raja Swaminathan said...

Afridi did that?
Man, that was PRETTY mean of him - and actually very unsportsmanlike. Especially when the Chennai crowd was appreciative of Anwar's innings.

It is precisely this type of behaviour that makes it difficult to have friendly relations between the two countries.

Afridi, as an ambassador of Pakistan, should know better than to wind up Indian fans. But then he should also know better than to dance on a pitch or to bite into a cricket ball!

Thanks for your comment, Mukund. I can totally understand other Indians not behaving the way I did. It was one of those spontaneous acts that I sometimes indulge in. :-)

Mukund said...

I take back a little bit of my view-point expressed earlier :-) It's elections time in TN so you can't take consistency and integrity for granted :-)

I didn't really wave their flag, but I was cheering Lloyd's men during the 1984 test match at Chepauk. Gavaskar thrilled the crowd with his 236 in that test, but I managed to annoy a few fellow spectators.

So, a quick amendment to my stance - I would certainly wave the opponent's flag if it happens to be Lloyd's XI. I loved that team so much..

Ravi said...

With the World Cup fervor going on in the sub-continent, people tend to forget that after all its a game.

Bangladesh staged an upset today by defeating England. In the end even Mike Atherton could not help smile during the award ceremony when he realized how much this win meant to Bangladesh and its supporters. He praised their efforts without rubbing salt into the English team and their fans.

I may not wave their flag if Pakistan defeats India, but I would surely congratulate them and tell them smilingly to watch out for India in the next game.

We should not lose the ability enjoy a good game between India & Pak. Both teams have amazing players. Imran, Wasim and now Shoaib Akhtar are bowlers who are amazing to watch and the likes of whom India will never produce. Similarly, Kumble taking all 10 wickets in Pak's 2nd innings in the Kotla test was a treat to watch.

Lets learn to enjoy a good game of cricket.

Bharath Hemachandran said...

The only thing I found unbelievable in the article is that the Dutch are passionate enough about something to have rivalries!

Knowing you I can totally imagine you waving the Pak flag :)

Raja Swaminathan said...

@Ravi, thanks for your comment. Indeed, however passionate we get during the course of a game, it needs to be left on the cricket field. Sport is "sport" for a reason. Anyway, another India-Pakistan showdown coming up. Can't wait! :-)

Raja Swaminathan said...

@Bharath, ha ha! Oh, the Dutch do have their rivalries. At the club level in their football league, there is very intense rivalry between Ajax (Amsterdam) and Feyenoord (Rotterdam). And to a lesser extent, PSV (Eindhoven). At a national level, they have rivalry with Germany in football, although I don't think the Germans take the Dutch particularly seriously. :-)