The Imran leap to maturity

India-Pak cricket in the ’80s helped navigate a way out of bigotry

Written by Sriram Veera | Updated: July 1, 2017 6:47 am
fakhar zaman, jasprit bumrah, india vs pakistan, indian express The term might be a cliché for two split countries but there is something to it.

Watching India play Pakistan was a life-defining experience in the 1980s. The Doordarshan logo that threatened to spiral out of control, the sari-clad North Indian lady who would say, “aaiye aapko le chalte hain Gwalior jahan Bharat aur Pakistan ke beech teesra antarashtriya…”, and finally, the long-haired, athletic Imran Khan getting ready to leap into your dreams and nightmares.

The games against Pakistan set you up for rejection, filling you with a brooding sense of fear of failure — a deep rumbling in the guts, an anticipatory onset of the blues, if you will — and also an ecstatic feeling of triumph, a tingling delight that left an after-taste for the entire evening, and the ‘morrow at school. Ultimately, it matured you.

Perhaps it percolated from the adults that this bat-ball thingy against the neighbours is something much more than a game. You got swept along, without understanding the bigotry of the relatives in some cases. The past wasn’t the wonderland nostalgia-pedllers claim: All the stereotypes were present, perhaps even exaggerated: “Did you know Indian Muslims celebrate Pakistan wins?”

And then you also felt a strange “umbilical cord” twinge. The term might be a cliché for two split countries but there is something to it. It was a negative feeling at times, in the sense it made you wish Pakistan would lose even when they weren’t playing India, but left you feeling eerily flat when it happened. More often than not, it was a positive feeling, making you wish they do well and feel chuffed when they did. All this began to raise questions: What am I feeling? Why does a piece of coloured cloth — the flag — kick up some chemical-locha inside you?

The strangest development in Indo-Pak affairs on the field was how it made you dread Fridays. It’s one of those messy things that spill out from human nature. There was a game that really skilful-player-against-spin Salim Malik won against all odds — shimmying to the leg side, exposing the stumps, and carting and carving the pacers and spinners alike. It’s all amusing now but then, once India scraped their way on weekdays and set up a final on Friday, the sinking feeling would set in.

Fridays were of course a special day for the Muslims and it would set off another bout of questions about what you felt. Sport threw up the deepest feelings in boyhood, perhaps some in school were loitering about in love and lust, but for many of us, cricket, and Indo-Pak matches in particular, threw up the most complicated questions of our life. Slowly, the breakout moments came through: You realised the bigotry of some relatives, the amount of unconscious social conditioning that had percolated in you, and you strived to break free. Ultimately, it was the Pakistani cricketers with their dazzling skills that helped you in this. Sport often panders to the parochial but these men in green elevated you with their jaw-dropping brand of cricket. It was easy to like them and it became easier to push forward towards maturity.

One thing that helped was that the world at large allowed you to go through these internal monologues on your own. There were no hectoring anchors on TV hammering in their definition of patriotism, the “go-back-to-Pakistan” sentiment wasn’t at the ridiculous level it is now, and even debates about Kashmir were more civilised. Bigotry about Pakistan and Islam was muted, and you could work your way out of the mess without it leaving any psychological scars.

Not that bigotry wasn’t prevalent. I remember hearing a commotion, and opening a door at a relative’s house to see adults clapping and cheering at the TV. The demolition of the Babri masjid was being shown — a VHS tape from the karsevaks’ point of view was doing the rounds then — and there was utter mayhem at the site, and celebration in the room. Luckily by then, enough cricket had been seen to realise that one could step out to play some cricket. You were playing Pakistan vs India with other teenagers, and the Imran leap had to be practised.

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  1. P
    papa imran
    Jul 2, 2017 at 12:25 am
    I am a Muslim living in Gurgaon and trust me all the muslims in my family I know hate India like anything because of the sheer oppressive nature of the state.If Muslims are citizens of this oppressive country called India then why there was no Indian Muslim candidate by BJP in UP elections? Why is beef banned on which the livelihood of so many IndianMuslims of India depends? Why are Indian Muslims arrested when Pakistan wins a match no matter they raise slogan or not? Why are Indian Muslims make to wear nationalism on their sleeve in order to prove their patriotism? Why there are no quotas for Indian Muslims despite the fact that they are the bottom most in economic indicators. Even Mazhabi Sikhs have quota. Why are the mosques of Indian Muslims attacked and pigs thrown in the mosques. What about the pogroms and genocide of Muslims in 1992 and 2002 and 2014 So many reasons for not only Muslims but also Sikhs, Dalits, Naxalites, Maoists, Dravidians, Gorkhas and Kashmiris to rebel
    Reply
    1. T
      Thrinethran T
      Jul 2, 2017 at 3:25 am
      India's pseudo-seculars have encouraged Muslims in their aversion to cultural exchange, social reform and philosophical evolution. The reaction that you witness is to the exceptionalism of isolationists. Else, how are Muslim actors, musicians, scholars.. fact all liberal folk, so well-liked, appreciated and admired?
      Reply
      1. A
        Abid
        Jul 3, 2017 at 8:46 am
        Yes Papa Imran, I have all the sympathies with you and many Muslims "languishing" in "no-more secular India". Does any one in India realises the hypocrisy prevalent in India about gao mata? There are more than one provinces in India,which are the biggest exporters of beef(gao meat), but still they(gao rakshaks) continue to look the other side! Is it because India is earning much needed foriegn exchange? This is sheer hypocrisy,shame on "gao rakshaks"
        Reply
      2. D
        Dr Steve George
        Jul 1, 2017 at 11:44 pm
        This is to inform the public male or female who are healthy and serious in selling his/her kidney urgently a kidney is bought $450,000 USD. my name is Dr steve i am Neprologist in India fortish surgical Hospital. kindly contact us through Email: fortishospitalshs or Call mobile No:7795551088 or whatsap 9867074138.....
        Reply
        1. S
          sk
          Jul 1, 2017 at 11:04 pm
          This is not the 80s anymore. Wake up, it is a new day and a new reality. Think you lost one of your near and dear in the 7/11 terror attacks, and then we can talk.
          Reply
          1. P
            papa imran
            Jul 2, 2017 at 12:24 am
            Muslims of India demolish Somnath and take revenge for Babri mosque. Genocide in Varnasi and take revenge for Gujarat genocide. Kill Hindus and rape Hindu women to take revenge for Mumbai 1993 Muslims of India unite and rebel against Hindu Kafir India
            Reply
            1. T
              Thrinethran T
              Jul 2, 2017 at 4:15 am
              You have done all this here when you dominated, and in you holy Stans. If you were a civilised person you would never exult in brutality. Indians abhor your likes entering our media. Stay in your daesh.
          2. J
            Jay Smith
            Jul 1, 2017 at 10:57 pm
            O great philosopher stooping of cross border terrorism is what we need not Cricket.
            Reply
            1. S
              Seshubabu Kilambi
              Jul 1, 2017 at 8:01 pm
              Sportiveness has lost to religious bigotry
              Reply
              1. E
                Employ Ment
                Jul 1, 2017 at 4:01 pm
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                Reply
                1. A
                  arvij
                  Jul 1, 2017 at 3:49 pm
                  Another Pak apologist ! Always in IE. A Congress motormouth, apoligist for Pak .
                  Reply
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                    Ehsan Habib
                    Jul 1, 2017 at 3:10 pm
                    India has always played the typical Hindu mindset. Sign am agreement and then blatantly go against it. Simla in 1971 but broke it in both Chor batla 1982 and Siachen in 1984. So we do remember your bigotry.
                    Reply
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