The valley of Kashmir is abuzz, yet again, with the talk of India-Pakistan Cricket series. Even though the arch rivals may not be fighting as bitterly on the cricket pitches these days as in the heydays of their cricket, before the ‘IPL floods’ and increasing frequency of matches. Yet the fervor remains, passions still soar, and the adrenaline still rushes in the veins of young Kashmir.
A majority of Kashmiris, regardless of their political leanings, still support Pakistan when it comes to cricket. Even though the ‘Pathans’ (as they commonly are referred among the youth circles) have let Kashmiris down time and again with their poor cricketing performances, yet the faith in them has never dwindled. Every match is like a new beginning, every time a Pakistani hits a six, almost all of Kashmir goes up in jubilation and every time a rival wicket falls, cheers flood the faces irrespective of their symmetries. And the same feelings reverberate in almost all corners of the world, literally, every corner that a Kashmiri lives in. However, being a Pakistani cricket fan (Kashmiri) in the Indian mainland poses its own challenges. Kashmiris living outside often live in close circles, and assemble at each other’s houses (dhera’s) to enjoy the cricket clashes together, primarily for the reason that it lends the “Kashmir-like” environment and also for the reason that it “adds up” the charm of celebrating among the larger number of fellow fans.
Before even the coin was tossed into air at “Chinnaswamy Stadium” the Kashmiri fans of Pakistan team had quietly occupied their seats at the stadium, their hearts beating at a faster rate. Getting into that stadium was a challenge in itself. They had availed tickets a few days ago, only after having to stay awake in the queue outside the stadium for the whole night. Their determination was so high that many of them didn’t budge even an inch the next morning when the lathicharge was unleashed on them (of course, being a Kashmiri would have helped to scoff off this kind of a lathicharge as a “shurr khel” – the child’s play). However, the biggest of the challenges they faced was whether to be expressive of their support for Pakistan team or to just pretend being Indian fans while secretly admiring every Pakistani run and every rival wicket. Among the thousands present at the stadium in Bangalore, there were a few hundred Kashmiris too, and among these was a group of over a dozen daring young Kashmiris (or call them crazy, if you like the informal description) who made their presence felt in a manner many wouldn’t.
Being a part of this group in many ways, I witnessed the events unfold for many days. Most of these young men, brazen in their ardent desire for unfurling Pakistani banners in the stadium, had prepared so much in advance to make their mark among the swathes of Indian crowd. They had brought green cloth from one vendor, white from another. They shopped for painting brushes very well in advance. Banners were painstakingly but neatly hand written with a range of slogans, like, “This is NOT cricket, this is WAR”. Some expressed their admiration for Afridi in the form, “Lion-Heart + Brave-Heart + BoomBat = Sweet-Heart Afridi”. Some of these went to the maverick lengths by painting banners like, “We Kashmiris support Pakistan” although that banner was trashed by the security men outside the stadium later. I could see the enthusiasm and the magnitude of their efforts (which they mostly put in secrecy) to make the plan a success. Even by 4.30 pm on the match day (25th December) the guys were still painting some of the banners at their respective rooms.
As the match hour came nearer, the men left their buildings, located in different corners of the Bangalore city, everyone carried the same feeling in their hearts, ‘this evening, we must either make it or mar it’. Even though the enthusiasm was overwhelming, yet there was this eerie silence in their hearts for the fear of reprisals from the crowds, the reaction of security agencies and above all the performance of the Pakistani cricket team itself. As these young men descended onto the stadium from various directions, the first shock they had to grapple with, was the prohibition on ‘any form’ of banner inside. As they saw security agencies literally emptying people’s hands and pockets of any prohibited material, one guy thought of a meticulous plan. He promptly asked his fellow Kashmiri fans to hide a few ‘important’ banners in their undergarments and to top them up with a handkerchief in jeans pocket to avoid suspicion. The trick worked and lo behold, they were inside the stadium with all their banners, the hard work of so many days. Now the men faced a greater challenge, when and how to unfurl the flags and slogans? Should they disclose their Kashmiri identity or not?
As the match proceeded, the Indians started their innings with a blitzkrieg batting and these young men sat dejected in the stands with no progress so far, anyone could have assumed them to be the ‘normal fans’. However, no sooner did Afridi provide a breakthrough wicket that this “Mini-pakistani corner” of a dozen Kashmiri fans erupted in joy among the startled crowds of Indians. Now they found themselves under the scrutiny, but they had set the ball rolling and there was no looking back. Come what may happen, they looked adamant at making their presence felt. But to their sweet surprise, and quite understandably so, they were mistaken by the crowds as being Pakistani nationals. No one among the crowd seemed to have an iota of doubt about their origin. This worked in their favour and soon there was an encirclement by a few security men to provide them ‘protection’ in case something goes wrong. It looked absolutely like a “divine help”. Their joy knew no bounds. Their spirits touched the sky and their sloganeering for Pakistani team was resounding in many adjacent stands as well. They certainly became the spot of attraction for all of those present there. Some of the Indian fans went closer to enquire about the places in Pakistan they had come from, some even enquired about Atif Aslam. So much was the attention generation by these over-a-dozen ardent fans that other Kashmiris in the rest of the stands started requesting them over the phones to tone down their jubilation, fearing something terrible was in the making. But as the sixes of Malik and Hafeez started raining, their passion crossed the boundaries too. At the strike of the last six by Malik, many of these passionate young men removed their t-shirts in celebration, probably mocking Ganguly’s act at Lord’s, however, there were no cameras, unfortunately, to capture them in their overwhelming celebration mood. As one of these young men concluded, “If such a match had taken place in Kashmir also, I don’t think we would have enjoyed this much because the joy of booing the Indian crowds at the Indian soil is an unparalleled reward for unbounded passion.”