x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

India and Pakistan have been two nations with one soul

We looked like each other, spoke the same language and had similar qualities. We both wanted peace in the region and we both loved cricket.

Chaudhry Abdul Jalil, centre, one of Pakistan's most iconic supporters crosses the border into Wagah, India, yesterday. Narinder Nanu / AFP
Chaudhry Abdul Jalil, centre, one of Pakistan's most iconic supporters crosses the border into Wagah, India, yesterday. Narinder Nanu / AFP

When Muhammad Ali Jinnah was given the offer by Mahatma Gandhi to become united India's first premier in 1947, he rejected it, choosing instead to continue with his demand for a separate Muslim state. In another context at a later date, he was quoted as saying: "Better a moth-eaten Pakistan than no Pakistan at all."

What followed over several months was partition, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives as people lost loved ones and homes on either side of the border.

Over six decades, a culture of hatred and conflict — punctuated by four wars — kept the two nations at loggerheads.

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While growing up in the 1980s, before the era of internet and cable television, I read my history books well and studied issue after issue of India Today magazine. My imagination of a Pakistani was that of a bogeyman, much like Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. After all, they were in my eyes the aggressors who coveted all of the Kashmir state in northern India.

That myth grew stronger while watching India and Pakistan play each other at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium during the 1980s and early 1990s. Our enemy was clearly bigger, stronger and more aggressive. Their Javed Miandad hit the ball harder than our Sunil Gavaskar. Their Wasim Akram bowled faster than our Kapil Dev.

Even their fans were louder. In fact, the image of one-time Abu Dhabi resident Chaudhry Abdul Jalil — also known as Jalil Chacha — used to strike fear in me for I always believed the bearded old man had the magical powers to rob India of victory.

When Miandad hit that last-ball six off Chetan Sharma in 1986 in Sharjah, it was evident that Pakistan had India's number.

But the one man who routinely got under Pakistan's skin was Sachin Tendulkar. He was their nemesis; they needed to get him out to win. There were times when I could hear a sound emanate from the stands when Tendulkar strode on to the pitch for India. It was hundreds of Pakistani fans praying loudly in the hope that he would be dismissed sooner or later.

In several instances, it would be sooner and these chants would then turn into wild screams of joy. I recall Aquib Javed, the fast bowler, regularly getting him out, prompting my friends to stick Javed's picture on their bedroom doors to throw darts at.

Things changed towards the turn of a new century. India emerged as a major player in the global economy while internal political strife began to strike at Pakistan's foundation. As for the cricket, visits to Sharjah — which had served as a neutral territory — dried up as the teams started to tour each other's countries more often.

Coincidentally, the Indian team rose under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly while Pakistan saw a vacuum with the exit of their superstars. We were getting better at beating them, especially at the World Cup. And if Pakistan had Jalil Chacha, we had the polio-stricken Dharamvir Singh Pal to be proud of.

I was fortunate to cover two India-Pakistan one-day internationals in 2005. Pakistan were a mediocre side but came out fighting in the April heat.

I recall this series for the emergence of MS Dhoni, the India captain, for the wonderful century he scored at Visakhapatnam. The Pakistanis did not know what to make of Dhoni's unconventional style and Inzamam-ul-Haq, the captain, struggled with field placements.

That week was a huge learning experience for me. Their players did not seem larger than life anymore. They were not as combative as Miandad always seemed to be on television and on the contrary, Inzamam and his team were friendly with everyone. It did not feel like we were battling the Old Enemy. Familiarity had bred friendship.

By then I was sensible enough to realise that the Pakistani people were very much like us Indians.

We looked like each other, spoke the same language and had similar qualities. We both wanted peace in the region and we both loved cricket.

And, if nothing else, we both had similar contempt for our politicians who had made hay by calling each other the enemy.

But most things in life ebb and flow and so have our relations with Pakistan. The 2008 attacks in Mumbai, masterminded by a militant group across the border, has cooled our relations. And none of the franchises in the Indian Premier League hired any Pakistan players, raising tensions between the two cricket boards.

Today's World Cup semi-final game should be interesting, for the stakes are so high. For a feisty and in-form Pakistan team it is about reclaiming pride in the context of the spot-fixing controversy and the recent slew of militant attacks.

For India, it is about losing face if defeated in such a big game on home soil in front of leaders and diplomats from both countries.

ckadalayil@thenational.ae

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More on India v Pakistan

Dravid: India are favourites against Pakistan in today's World Cup semi
When India v Pakistan matches reached boiling point
India captain Dhoni wary of Pakistan counterpart Afridi's spin
A two-point agenda for everyone at Mohali
Time for some hyperbole as Afridi blames media
Sri Lanka recover to beat New Zealand in Muralitharan's send-off game

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