Home / Mint-lounge / Mint-on-sunday /  India vs Pakistan: Games people play over faux patriotism

In Pakistan, the leaders of two perennially hostile countries are resuming talks. In contrast, the cricket administrators on both sides are finding it hard to figure out how the two teams can play each other. They say they want to arrange a tour, then they say they can’t, then maybe in Sri Lanka... on and on.

One factor in this difficulty must be the bluster from a particular Indian political party that claims any dealing with Pakistan—cricket, music, whatever—is unpatriotic. To that end, they recently blackened a man’s face because he was releasing a Pakistani man’s book, and then they claimed this was equivalent to whatever our soldiers do on our borders.

Leave aside the obscene perversity of such an equation. Leave aside the résumé of the party that makes it. One thing I’m concerned about is the price we have paid in this part of the world for six decades and counting of such hostility: thousands of fine young men in uniform killed in battle, thousands of ordinary citizens killed in rioting and bomb blasts and more.

If there’s a path that can take us to a time when this endless bloodshed slows and stops altogether, we owe it to the memory of those thousands to follow it.

But I’m also concerned about the illogic on display here. Indian and Pakistani diplomats and other officials are finally talking again. Our prime ministers have met in the past and will soon meet again. If those things can happen, why should our cricket teams not play each other? This seems so straightforward that I’m amazed it is even an issue.

As soon as our elected representatives decided to talk, the cricket tour—and, in fact, any connections between ordinary Indians and Pakistanis—should have automatically been put on the calendar too, with only logistics left to work out. Anything less makes no sense. They are our representatives, after all. What they do is in our names, as a proxy for us all. So, if they meet, it’s as if the rest of us do.

Even so, the latest we have heard is that the cricket tour won’t happen.

Yet, if that’s illogical, there’s even greater illogic in the actual attempts to stop the tour. We must not play cricket with Pakistan, some say. That country’s cricketers must not even set foot on Indian soil, they say as well.

Well, they might consider that there’s a Pakistan cricket team that has just finished a three-match T20 series against India in India. They lost 2-1, but the matches were played competitively and with spirit.

There are photographs of the players shaking hands after a game and they said some appreciative things about each other. “Like always, it was home for us," the Pakistani manager said. “We are taking back love and affection. We would like to come back."

Not the Pakistani team you are thinking of, though. These were physically challenged players. Reading about them reminded me of the time, a few years ago, when I stopped at one of the Gymkhana grounds on Mumbai’s Marine Drive to watch still another Pakistan team play a cricket match against an Indian team. I’m hardly ashamed to admit that the intensity and passion on display that day brought tears to my eyes. For those were teams of blind cricketers.

Why did nobody dig up pitches to prevent these matches from taking place? Why did nobody set off to assault sundry officials who helped make these matches happen? After all, these teams also represented Pakistan, and they were playing on Indian soil. Why did my city’s legions of brave men—who think blackening faces is the same as the deeds of soldiers—allow these matches to play out?

Could it be that even such men recognize the sheer crassness of attacking the handicapped or the blind? Unlikely, because in the past, they have assaulted female journalists, stripped to their V-fronts for a demonstration, stuffed food into the mouth of a waiter observing his Ramzan fast, and more. To them, crassness matters little.

So no, what’s going on here isn’t a sudden outbreak of decency. Instead, it’s the fundamental illogic of the hatreds that too many people feel. They claim they cannot abide one kind of India-Pakistan match. But they don’t even notice other kinds of India-Pakistan matches. Why?

That’s simple. A cricket series between the senior Pakistan and India teams is a major news story. Given the following the game has, given the history of our relationship, you can be sure the series will attract blanket TV coverage and all manner of experts offering all manner of commentary.

By its very nature, then, it offers a golden opportunity to people who are searching for their turn in the spotlight, for their chance to impress impressionable supporters who are already accustomed to, primed for, bouts of angry hatred. Disrupt that series and you have guaranteed yourself a great deal of attention.

But games between two handicapped teams? Who cares?

In other words, the desire to prevent cricket with Pakistan has nothing to do with Pakistan itself—or it would extend to blind cricket too. No, it has everything to do with holding tight to empty prejudice and with staying in the public eye by whatever means possible.

And being so, the rest of us should treat such a desire with the contempt it cries out for.

Once a computer scientist, Dilip D’Souza now lives in Mumbai and writes for his dinners. His latest book is Final Test: Exit Sachin Tendulkar.

Twitter: @DeathEndsFun

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