India and Pakistan: Cricket can be the beginning


The World Cup has once again brought into focus India’s policy of not playing cricket against Pakistan. The main argument for that policy relates, of course, to Pakistan’s alleged support to cross-border terrorism. But there are others who argue that playing cricket against Pakistan will promote friendship and cooperation.


Both arguments are ridiculous.


There are three external stimulants that can arouse the most docile human being into bloodthirsty passion, and not necessarily in that order – territory, religion and sport. Human civilization has progressed beyond playing blood sports but the instinct to draw blood remains, and nowhere is that urge more evident as when opponents in territory or religion engage in sport. It is not merely a coincidence that spectators of sport paint their faces.


Make no mistake, to an Indian or Pakistani, cricket is a vicarious outlet for instincts that are as primal as a predator’s, as old as the gladiators. One does not need to look beyond the faces, the voices and the posters in the crowd during the recent India Pakistan match to realize that.


The objective of any sport is to win. In today’s age of high pressure, high expectation, high compensation, it has become even more necessary to win, to prove, to pummel, to vanquish, to be sole and utter victor. In the situation that these two countries are in, it may be death to do otherwise. These are not empty words – see how long it takes the Pakistani team members to reach home.


How then, can a sport that evokes so much ferocity promote harmony or understanding or whatever else that needs to be promoted, in order for these two neighbors to take their fingers off each other’s jugular?


Back in college, a wise professor taught me a simple truth. Affection, love or any emotion that bonds human beings is not automatic. Human relationships grow out of shared experience. One has to live through the joys and sorrows of life together, one has to laugh and cry as one, for the hearts to join in that stream of emotion called affection.


What India and Pakistan need to do is to not only ban cricket, but also to disallow hockey, football and every other sport that these countries can possibly play against each other. What these two countries need to do is to play all these games with each other.


Imagine a team that has both Indians and Pakistanis in it. Imagine Wasim Akram charging in with Sachin Tendulkar in the slips. Imagine Saeed Anwar and Saurav Ganguly sharing advice in the middle between overs. Imagine Indians and Pakistanis sitting in the same section of the stadium, crying themselves hoarse, not against each other, but for each other. Let them celebrate the euphoria of victory together. Let them feel the ashen taste of defeat together. Let them laugh and cry together.


How many differences can one see between the two countrymen? We have the same languages, the same food, the same clothes, the same music and the same skin color. We idolize the same stars. We have blood relatives in each other’s country. We can rarely tell one from the other. We even share a few places of worship.


How can so many similarities not be enough to drown out one difference, that too one of perception and nothing else? India has more Muslims than Pakistan has.


We were brothers once. Why did we allow a foreigner to draw a dagger through our heart and slice it into two? Why did we allow him to have two separate cricket teams, the Hindus and Mohammedans?


It is not panacea, yes. It is not easy, yes. But it is not impossible either.


Twenty-five countries of Europe, without even a common language between them, came together in something as difficult as economic union. The two Germanys, enemies by ideology, took a meager hammer to a great wall. North and South Vietnam, separated by the death of thousands in a bitterly fought war, joined together to become one nation despite all odds. A new generation in South Korea questions why the North needs to be an enemy. Can we, estranged brothers, not come together then, if only in mere affection, to play a sport that is so close to both hearts?


There will be problems in the beginning; there will be questions, accusations and frustrations. But the challenge of leadership lies in unifying, not in dividing.


Let those in authority pass these laws. Let there never be an Indian team without Pakistanis, let there never be a Pakistani team without Indians. Let there never be two sections in a stadium. Let these two countries never play against each other ever again.


Who knows where it might lead. Who knows whether, in seeking to solve problems across the border, we end up making the line disappear from our hearts.


If there is nothing as divisive as sport, there is nothing as unifying either.