Just as Mohammad Bashir approaches the main gate at the I S Bindra Stadium in Mohali, the Pakistani cricket fan, fondly called Chacha Chicago, is approached by a group of seven to eight youngsters. With the Pakistan cricket team training inside the stadium, Bashir knows it will be long wait as he is also offered lunch by the Indian fans outside the stadium.
“Yeh hai India ke awam ki mohabbat and yahi mujhe yahan le ati hai (this is India’s love for me and this brings me to watch cricket). Students offer me lunch, tea shops do not take money from us and people wait with me for the team buses just to start a conversation with me. Our skipper Shahid Afridi only said the truth that they get more love here in India as compared to Pakistan. Those who got angry by this will keep crying like this all their life,” said the 63-year-old who runs a Biryani restaurant, Garib Nawaz, in Chicago.
Bashir’s love for cricket began in 2010 when he travelled to the West Indies to watch the 2007 World Cup. The ardent cricket fan has seen Pakistan winning the 2009 T20 World Cup. He has also travelled to England to watch his team play apart from Australia and New Zealand during last year’s 50-over World Cup.
Apart from Pakistan, Indian cricketers also remain a favourite for Bashir with Indian skipper M S Dhoni also giving him a bat during last month’s Asia Cup. “Aap hamari team le lo and Dhoni hamein de do. He is world’s best player and a player like him can make any team win the world cup. Like his captaincy, he is also a good person by heart and gave me one of his bats after they won the final in Asia Cup in Bangladesh last month. I plan to install it at my restaurant in Chicago. During the 2014 World T20 Cup also, he had arranged tickets for me,” shares Bashir, who hails from Karachi.
Bashir though does have an Indian connection. His wife Rafia is from Hyderabad, India, and his son and three daughters too visit the country at times. This trip has seen Bashir getting rasgullas from Kolkata apart from bangles and saris from Hyderabad.
Tough visa norms and the late ticket schedule though have meant that not many Pakistan fans have come to see their team play against New Zealand and Australia. The last few months have also seen the die-hard Pakistani cricket fan, Abdul Jaleel, famously dubbed ‘Chacha Cricket’ (or Uncle Cricket), recognised by his long white beard and the traditional green salwar kameez he sports while waving the Pakistani flag, not travelling with the team.
“They are saying that they issued 250 visas. But I am yet to meet a fellow Pakistan cricket fan here. I had come during the 2011 World Cup semis here and we enjoyed the hospitality here. Yes, we were cheering for Pakistan but we also appreciated India’s win. Akele Pakistan ka cricket thoda hai na,” signs off Bashir.