The conch shell booms. “Om Jai Jagadish hare, swami…” the chant fills the oldest temple in Manchester. The Friday sun has set and dark skies return to drench the city. Inside, priest Krishan Joshi, who came to England 23 years ago, performs an aarti after finishing the chants. A few Indians, eyes shut, dwell on their dreams.
In her 40s, Sarbani Chatterjee — “Manchester is okay I guess, it’s not Kolkata, it’s raining all the time here,” she says — wants to enroll her son Ishaan into a cricket club. Joshi offers help, his son is at a cricket club. “80 pounds for four weeks. It’s very good,” he says. Joshi’s son, who is at cricket and comes later, wants to play cricket for England. “Younger son… opposite. No cricket. His mother brought him a 150-pound Apple watch and in three days, he opened to find out what is inside,” he says. Laughter. Sarbani coaxes the priest, asking for help to get her son into the same cricket club as his son. “Kuch kariye na (Please do something), they are not answering my calls.” Priest as medium to God and cricket.
“Do you have tickets for the India-Pakistan match? Ishaan would love to go,” she asks Joshi next. Sarbani is disappointed with the reply — Joshi talks about how in his WhatsApp group, the 70-pound ticket is being offered at 1,000. Outside, the pitter-patter continues.
While a dry Friday afternoon had raised hope, rains came down on Saturday afternoon, raising worries about Sunday’s cricket’s biggest blockbuster event, the India vs Pakistan match at Manchester’s Old Trafford stadium. For the teams, the result of this league game will play a crucial role in their qualification to the knock-out stage, but for the fans. it isn’t just a fight for the two points at stake. It’s about bragging rights.
At a kebab house, not too far away from the temple, Amir Bhatti, a middle-aged man who came from Pakistan 12 years ago and now runs this shop, is amazed that pavilion tickets are being sold in the black market for 4,000 pounds. “A regular job would earn you 1,500 to 2,000 pounds a month. So that would mean more than two months’ salary for a ticket. Shauk hai, logon ka. Apni apni marzi (People have their interests).”
Amir’s “shauk” is watching the Indian television show Crime Patrol. He has subscribed to it on his phone. “The show tells you what can happen when life gets out of control. I tell my children also to watch it.” He is trying his best to keep his life in control. The wife and children are in Pakistan, in colleges, and he didn’t want to disturb their education. “Once they finish studies, maybe I will bring them here. Not now.”
Back at the temple, Sarbani says, “I don’t know too many Pakistanis. There are lots of them here. They are not bad.” And adds, “They have been okay to me. I don’t have any Pakistani friends but I buy all my stuff in their shops.”
Perhaps, one of the earliest Indians to come to this city was in the 1880s — an elephant named, what else, ‘Maharajah’. Bought in an auction by a rich Englishman, Maharajah was much admired and his remains are now at the Manchester museum. Soon after Maharajah, around the 1850s, commoners started pouring in from the subcontinent.
The Manchester migration story is an old one. The city’s reliable power supply from rivers in the Pennines, its soft water that was perfect for washing and bleaching clothes and the damp air which ensured the cotton threads didn’t snap as easily as it did in some other places, ensured that the city became the Cottonopolis of the world.
Thousands of Pakistanis and Indians were employed in “dark, satanic (textile) mills”, with several iconic black-and-white photographs freezing that image of smoke swirling out of tall mill chimneys. A BBC documentary records the health hazards to the workers — the loss of fingers, breathing problems due to cotton dust and how children were entrusted with the dangerous job of crawling under machines to pick any loose bits of cotton threads. At its peak in 1853, Manchester had 108 cotton mills and in 1912, eight billion yards of cloth were produced. The World Wars slowed down the process before another cotton boom in the 1950s had Pakistanis and, to a lesser extent, Indians pouring in to the city again.
Sarbani’s husband Barun Chatterjee, who works in the tax and revenue department, has a wry smile when he talks about how the English bastardised “Chattopadhyay” to ‘Chatterjee” in the colonial years because they couldn’t pronounce it. “But now, they can’t even pronounce Chatterjee — most here call me ChatterGEE.”
“Yeh sab dono mulk key siyasaton ka problem hai (These are all problems created by governments in both countries),” says Amir, the kebab shop owner, as he sits down for a chat after slicing the meat hanging from a hook. “After the English, our second largest customers here are Indians. Then Pakistanis. We don’t talk about Kashmir or whatever — even when it comes up, it’s usually talked about as failures of governments. We have no problems between ourselves. All of us get along well here.”
The Tatas have a base in Manchester and a number of Indians work and live in the city. A couple of weeks ago, there was a bit of a ruckus at Amir’s kebab shop — almost as if a scene from Crime Patrol had spilled out. “A white man walked in and started to yell racist profanities at our staff. A few Indian customers then helped us to send the man out. I must add that the English are usually okay. One in ten creates some problems now and then. Unka desh hai, we have come to work here — I guess some might have problems with that. Jaayaz hai (It’s natural).”
Identity and nationalism are hot-button subjects in this country, especially in the times of Brexit. Ironically for an imperial nation that once ruled the world, Britain is now trying to define itself. Podcasts, broadsheets, intellectual magazines such as the London Review of Books sweat a lot about “Englishness”. The writer Madeleine Bunting wrote, “Why does that make us shiver? What is about Englishness that makes polite society nervous? The definition of English nationalism has been abandoned to football hooligans and the far right.”
How then do Indian- and Pakistani-origin people in Manchester deal with questions of identity and nationalism?
At the Manchester temple, Shivanjali Pandya, a 20-something dentistry student, who is here to offer her gratitude at how her exams have gone so far, says she was born in England. “Whenever someone asks me, I say I am an Indian. I am from a Gujarati family. I started to speak English only after I went to school,” she says in a British accent.”
And what about when no one asks? “Hmm… mixed identity, I guess. Part-Indian, part English. That’s fine, right?” Sitting next to her, Ishaan, the 10-year-old son of the priest, pipes up: “I see myself as mixed too. I am not Indian, I am not English, I am mixed.”
At Stockport Road, inhabited by Pakistani establishments sprinkled alongside three mosques, is a bustling market called ‘Longsight’. Here, about 200 shops sell everything from clothes to jewellery, fruits and Pakistani mangoes. Mohammad Shaghir has a shop that sells kurtas and other traditional clothes. Twenty years ago, Shaghir moved here from Mirpur in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir — “Azad Kashmir,” as he calls it.
He now lives in Bradford, a multi-racial town with Muslims forming a quarter of the population and which is some 40 miles from Manchester. As the talk veers to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan and his hopes of peace, he suddenly says: “Can I tell you something? Who are Lahore and India to decide the fate of Kashmir? Yeh inki baap ki jaagir nahi hai (It’s not their ancestral property).”
An elderly man is walking around the Manchester temple hall, collecting Indian flags to be carried for the game. “There were so many but people never return them. Vaapas hi nahi dete.” Priest Joshi calms him down. “Hota hai, uncle. Apne log hi hain (It happens, they are our own).” “Bhai, these things aren’t cheap. I need them now as NDTV guys called. They want me to come to the ground on Saturday with the flags.” Nationalism and religion in a temple.
Trilok Saini came to England 50 years ago. He started off as a sales representative of encyclopaedias, then did odd jobs. His wife, who was a teacher in India, joined the post office in Manchester, retired as its head and now gets a “good pension”.
In his telling, it was because India insisted on proper passports and documentation in the 1950s that there are more Pakistanis than Indians in Manchester. “They just loaded themselves into ships and planes and left. Not us. This happened because of Nehru’s idealism. Else, we would have been more (than the Pakistanis). Now that Modiji is here, everything will be fine.”
A mini-rant ensues about the familiar thorny issues between India and Pakistan. He admits there aren’t too many problems between Pakistanis and Indians in England. “Kya hoga idhar? Na desh hamara, na zameen hamari — idhar hi jeena hai ek saath, idhar hi marna hai (What will happen here? Neither is this country ours, nor the land — we live here together, we die here.)”
Shahid Hashmi, a senior AFP journalist from Pakistan, talks about how he met a dhabawala at Bristol. “Rana ka Dhaba, born in Rawalpindi, brought up in Amritsar, and he has now been running a dhaba in Bristol for many years. He told me, “I don’t serve just food. I serve love from our two nations.’”
Amir, the kebab shop owner, has done his bit to extend that love in Manchester. Four years ago, when a travelling Indian journalist was struggling to find a way to get raakhi from his sister as he didn’t have a fixed address, Amir suggested that the journalist give his sister the shop’s address. The courier arrived soon after.
Meanwhile, a lot of banter is swirling up at the University of Manchester between Indians and Pakistanis. Shivanjali, the dental student, says they have had a match for a while now — Indians vs Pakistanis. Mixed teams of boys and girls, born and brought up in England, playing the age-old cricketing rivalry. “It is great fun. First we used to keep count of our wins and losses — but as it went on, that stopped.”
Even in this dentistry college, some old tropes refuse to die: “The Pakistanis seem to have the better bowlers,” Shivani laughs. “Our games usually become bowlers vs batsmen.” The group of Indian and Pakistani youngsters went to the Oval to catch the India vs Australia game; some also went to one of the Pakistan matches. No one in that group, though, could afford to get hold of a ticket for the India-Pakistan game on Sunday. “I guess, it might be rained out, anyway,” Shivani says.
Interestingly, her WhatsApp cricket group has been silent about the match. “Because my Pakistani friends think India is a much stronger team and that we will win! I am sure the messages will start coming in on match day — and depending on which team is on top, it will escalate. Whoever wins, we shall all celebrate later.”
The Big encounter
Since the inaugural 1975 World Cup, India and Pakistan have played against each other six times. India has won all of them.
March 4, 1992, SCG
By 1992, the insurgency in Punjab was nearing its end. At the SCG, some spectators in the Pakistani section of the crowds raised posters supporting the Khalistan movement. But as always, players from the two sides were friends off the field and Javed Miandad’s slapstick jumps to protest Kiran More’s hyperactive appealing was more comedy than attrition. For the record, India won by 43 runs.
March 9, 1996, Bangalore
The World Cup quarterfinal between India and Pakistan was played at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. The 1996 World Cup was co-hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and before the tournament, when Australia and West Indies decided to pull out of the matches in Sri Lanka due to security fears, Jagmohan Dalmiya ensured that a joint India and Pakistan team played an exhibition match against the Sri Lankan XI. However, in the quarterfinal match, India won by 39 runs against Pakistan.
June 8, 1999, Manchester
The two teams played a cricket match against each other at the World Cup Super Sixes clash at Old Trafford as their countries
fought the Kargil War. News channels beamed footages of the armies exchanging gunfire on the peaks of Kargil, while the sports channels captured the charged up real-time action. The players of both the teams conducted themselves brilliantly on the field. In the stands, posters were raised: “Cricket for peace”. Yet again, India beat Pakistan in a World Cup fixture, this time 47 runs.
March 1, 2003, Centurion
The two teams met after a long time for a World Cup match at SuperSport Park in Centurion, South Africa. Before the game, the ICC briefed both teams about on-field conduct and the cricketers acted in a responsible way. For a change, India won this time after batting second, by six wickets.