Nirmal Shekar

Let's imagine

Apparently, there is a ball-game on at Mohali on Wednesday. For a little over seven hours, the earth might even stop rotating on its axis — leaving the floodlight operators at the stadium jobless — and arterial roads in the cities of Mumbai, Karachi, Delhi and Lahore might make you think that its denizens have somehow been convinced — perhaps by some prankster on the Internet — that the skies were going to spew acid rain on that day.

We are told that this is as big as it gets in sport, although we know big itself is as big as the ad-men and the professional purveyors of hype want it to be, these days.

Apparently, there is so much at stake in Wednesday's game that its significance ought to be whispered to as yet unborn babies in the subcontinent by their parents just so they don't face the risk of falling behind their peers in the knowledge-stakes in a few years' time.

India versus Pakistan in a World Cup semifinal! Does anything compare to this? Especially because it will be happening a few hours after you get to read this?

Strangely, the more we believe that the world has changed, the less it actually has. Anthropologists will tell you what it is all about. It is the Us vs Them thing all over again — a Pleistocene era excess baggage that many of us carry gleefully and with great pride while forgetting to thank our long out-of-date neural hardwiring.

We might have more in common with our friends across the border than the Americans have with the Canadians and the English with the Scots, especially in terms of a shared culture. But, what the hell; it has been drilled into our malleable grey matter that this is the mother of all rivalries. And so we shall continue to believe.

Sport seldom makes for emotional neutrality; and it almost never does on occasions like this. Common sense and logic become as alien to us at times like these as daylight might be to a vampire.

Suddenly famous victories over the ‘arch-rival' begin to burn bright in the collective memory of cricket fans like an eternal flame on both sides of a still-disputed border. Soap-operatic plot tricks are dreamed of by scribes and performance anxiety grips the members of the opposing teams.

Even the experiential riches that accrue over 30-odd years in sports journalism — something this columnist can either take credit for or be seriously concerned about — hardly seem to matter on an occasion such as this. For, perspective still eludes us and it is hard to come up with a clear-eyed view unclouded by sentiments.

For, it is generally accepted that you check rationality at the door when you begin to view a forthcoming India-Pakistan cricket encounter. Like truth, rationality often stands in the way of a good story. And what better story there is than a so-called high-stakes cricketing battle between neighbours who have actually fought a few wars over the last 60-plus years.

It is just the sort of thing that taps into our tribal psyche, willing us to travel back in time to a past that evolution has been widely expected to have helped us leave behind.

But then, it is not all that dark. Light has been shining gloriously through India-Pakistan contests for the most part; only, a few of us have failed to notice its grandeur.

On January 31, 1999, at Chepauk, there came a moment that die-hard romantics and peaceniks constantly dream of but seldom get to experience. It was the sort of moment when you wanted to pinch yourself, just to be sure you were there; it was time to play John Lennon's immortal classic “Imagine” and believe, too, that everything that the great singer and songwriter wrote could actually become a reality.

A heroic Sachin Tendulkar, braving pain, had just been stopped short of a match-winning effort — he limped back to the pavilion dismissed for 136, when India needed 17 runs to win the Test — and not much later Wasim Akram and his men were doing a victory lap.

Every man, woman and child in the stadium, including members of the beaten Indian side, stood up to cheer the Pakistanis. If there was moment that could provide a revitalising lift to the morale of a cynic — vis-à-vis India-Pakistan cricket — this was it.

On that day, sport stood elevated, as of course it did during a few other India-Pakistan contests too, both here and across the border. And this — the collective elevation of our spirits — is the only reason we should look forward to the neighbours doing battle.

Sport can at once divide and unite. It is up to us — the lay fans, and not the politicians alone — to decide what we want it to do. Let the game begin. And let the better team — on the day — win.

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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 5:04:36 PM |

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