Hello and welcome once again to DRS - my very own personal space where we talk matters cricketing.
Cricket and politics in the Indo-Pak context has always had an uneasy relationship. There have been prolonged periods when India and Pakistan had not played cricket with each other simply because the politicians and the diplomats couldn't get their act together. In fact in the 1960s and '70s, a period when India and Pakistan went to two wars with each other, there was no virtually no cricket for more than 17 years. There have been other periods too when tensions between the two countries have reflected on what happens on the cricket field.
I find it personally all a little bit perplexing. Remember just a couple of weeks ago, the Pakistanis were here and we were celebrating Indo-Pak cricket, exciting cricket, the emergence of new talents, the wonderful victory that India had in the last game, the emergence of the likes of Junaid Khan and Nasir Jamshed. It appeared that we were entering a new era. Now suddenly I find that the clock is being turned back.
Yes, there is rage in this country and legitimate outrage over the manner in which an Indian soldier was beheaded on the border. There is predictably a desire that Pakistan and the Pakistani state must be taught a lesson. But the question I ask - are cricketers being made a soft target in the process? Why should we be targeting cricket for the failings of our politicians and our diplomats?
Yes, we must register protest at every international fora against the Pakistani state. Yes we must ensure that we target Jihadi terror in the fiercest manner possible. But I ask this question - should the Pakistani women's cricket team, for example, not be allowed to enter Mumbai? Who runs Mumbai? Does the Shiv Sena decide who can enter Mumbai and who can't? Isn't it the job of the state ultimately to provide basic security? And 15 Pakistani women cricketers, if they come to India, is that going to be something that will offend our nationalism?
Somewhere, I believe, we've lost perspective and our responses tend to target the wrong field. We've seen plays being cancelled, music concerts being cancelled and now we are being told that the cricket matches are being shifted out of Mumbai to Cuttack.
Well, all I can say is that our politicians and our diplomats need to recognise that Indo-Pak relations are to be kept distinct from Indo-Pak people-to-people contact. This is not an Aman ki Aasha vocabulary that I am voicing. I am not here for romantic nostalgia. All I am saying is civility demands that civil societies come together and look for those areas where we can harmonise - because if we don't, the vacuum will be filled by extremist voices on both sides. Is that what we want? Do we want the lumpens to take over and decide what areas India and Pakistan can interact each other?
Let me tell you a little story. Ten years ago, or 9 years ago in 2004, there was a match being played in Lahore. I took my son, then only 9 years old, to watch the game. India, with Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Kaif batting brilliantly won the game. A Pakistani sitting next to us was waving the Pakistani flag furiously. The moment he realised India was winning, he was disappointed. He offered my son the flag. My son wrapped it around himself and took it home. Whenever he was asked why do you have a Pakistani flag at home, he said one chacha from Pakistan gave it to me.
I know the innocence of youth will be replaced by the cold realities that we are faced with in adulthood, but somewhere we need to find spaces where we can work with each other. And surely cricket raises human endeavour, raises the human spirit, and that's why we must rediscover that human spirit by interacting with each other in areas like cricket. It will not make us lesser beings, it will not reduce our sense of outrage, it will not affect Indian nationalism. What it will do in its own small way is try and make cricket a kind of bridge, in a sense, between two divided people. Is that too much to ask?
I want to say at the end of the day that if these cricket matches have been moved to Cuttack, Naveen Patnaik, well done; Orissa Cricket Association, good on you. If the Mumbai Cricket Association and the Maharashtra government cannot take on the threats of the Shiv Sena, too bad.
We must be a large country with an even larger heart. We must deal with Pakistan severely on the border but we must be able to embrace them in areas where we can share a common heritage. Cricket, I would like to believe, is one of those areas. It would be a pity if in the future, the next generation cannot see a Junaid Khan bowling to a Mahendra Singh Dhoni or a Virat Kohli. That's what true sportsman spirit is about, that's what true sport is about.
Let's try and discover an India and Pakistan beyond the boundary.