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Celebrating cricket across the border

I am an atypical Indian. I don’t watch cricket. I have nothing against the game, I just don’t enjoy it. I believe that is an opinion I am allowed to have, but everyone around me disagrees. It is often said that cricket in India is a religion, and given how people treat it, that might be true. But, like with actual religion, I just don’t get cricket. So, a bunch of people stand around a field and hit a ball. Big deal. At home, I ignore cricketing events. The IPL happens, the World Cup happened, and other matches keep happening. Doesn’t affect my life one bit. Until it did.

I came to Lahore this summer. Only for two days, but I was incredibly excited. Pakistan! Took a flight from Delhi to Amritsar, crossed Wagah by foot, and I had reached. Driving from the border to Lahore was confusing; we were supposed to be in a foreign country but this looked just like home! And then, in the car, I heard the news. I looked up with a fake smile plastered on my face, “We are going to watch a cricket match? Like an actual cricket match?” I heard my voice say as I cringed inwardly at the thought. Clearly this was a treat, and everyone else was (as usual) very excited. “It’s okay,” I told myself, “you can just talk to people, or use your phone. It’ll be like watching a bad movie. You’ll be fine.” I was clinging to hope.

We left the house at three for a match that was supposed to begin at five. I didn’t understand the rush. As we got closer to the stadium, it became more apparent to me. The whole world (and its brother) was here. Everyone bedecked in green and carrying posters or caps, or something to announce their support of their country. The atmosphere was electric.

Once we got to our seats, we could see the whole stadium. The enclosures were overwhelmingly green as all of Pakistan put their patriotism on display, and waited for the match to begin. Even now, cheers were loud and enthusiasm was at (what I thought was) an all-time high. I learned soon that this was the first international series that Pakistan had hosted in six years, due to security reasons. This match was important, not only to win the series, but more for its symbolic value – of normalcy.

But what was normal in Pakistan, I wondered. And would I even recognise it? So far, I had seen little difference from my country – a feeling, I learned, that is shared by many. But obviously there are differences. As an Indian, I have heard a lot about Pakistan. As the daughter of someone who visits often, I have heard even more. This trip was my opportunity to create my own opinion of it. And this cricket match underscored some of my observations. The inexplicable fanaticism for cricket is the same, I decided. But the opportunity to channel that fervour is something we (as Indians) take for granted. In our box, everyone was dressed up, there was food served, people were taking pictures – it was like a party! And at some point, I realised, it was. People were celebrating this cricketing event. They were glad and grateful for it, but also nervous about its success, for it would determine the future of international cricket in Pakistan. I watched all this as an outsider at first, but they wouldn’t have any of it. Everyone around me pitched in, explaining the rules, telling me stories about the players, including me in their joy.

And then they were off! I don’t know much about the players, or the score or any of that, but from the looks on my neighbours’ faces, it was close. At any rate, it was definitely enjoyable. Even though I didn’t particularly understand the nuances of play, the energy was infectious and I found myself chanting, “Pakistan Zindabad” as loudly as anyone else. This was an unusual experience for me. Not the watching of the match itself, (although it was my first live match) but my participation in it. My friends (the same ones who couldn't comprehend my choice of city to visit) wouldn't have recognised me. In that moment however, all I could do was be a part of the revelry. To soak up everything about it. So that I could remember Pakistan by it. Looking back now, it was that belonging-ness that defines Pakistan for me. Being a part of them in that moment, even though I possibly shouldn't have been.

As the match drew to a close, and Pakistan won (finally!) by a close margin, the crowd went berserk. The celebrations seemed unending. They had won the match. But also, so much more.

Tarini Unnikrishnan is a Final Year History student at Delhi University