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Cricket and peace in Lahore

A Corner of a Foreign Field, by RAMACHANDRA GUHA, seamlessly interweaves biography with history, the lives of famous or forgotten cricketers with wider processes of social change. C.K. Nayudu and Sachin Tendulkar figure in this book, but so too, in unexpected and arresting ways, do Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammed Ali Jinnah. Later chapters explore the competition between Hindu and Muslim cricketers in colonial India and the destructive passions now provoked when India plays Pakistan. Exclusive extracts from a-soon-to-be-released publication which looks at the ramifications of sport in society at large.


A cricketing maharajah, as depicted by a British cartoonist. Indian princes, like English aristocrats, always preferred batting to bowling. Most, like the man caricatured here, were not very good at it; but there were exceptions, such as K.S. Ranjitsinhji.

IN the last week of January 1955, the Governor General of Pakistan visited India. He was received at Palam airport by Jawaharlal Nehru, and whisked off to the annual Republic Day parade. Here he sat next to the Indian President, Rajendra Prasad, while Prasad took the salute at the marchpast, with Hurricane fighter jets of the Indian Air Force thundering overhead. On his return to Karachi, the Governor General spoke of being treated with "the greatest hospitality and consideration" in India. There was, he said, now a "better hope than ever" of the settlement of disputes with Bharat.

Meanwhile, the cricket show moved on to Lahore. The Muslims who lived here saw it as their city, the home of exquisite tombs and mosques built by the Mughal Emperors Jehangir and Aurangzeb. But the Sikhs were proprietal about Lahore, too, for it was once the capital of a kingdom ruled by their man, Ranjit Singh. Before 1947, the Hindus were also present in bulk, dominating the city's markets and schools. Through the 19th Century, Lahore was the main centre of the great movement of Hindu social reform, the Arya Samaj.

After 1947, a vibrant, polyglot city became monocultural. Half a dozen Hindu families were all that remained. The rest had converted to Islam or simply fled. The only Sikhs now in Lahore were the guardians of Ranjit Singh's mausoleum, which lies in a gurdwara just outside the ramparts of the Fort. This was now a Muslim city alone, but the hosting of a Test match against India allowed it to recapture — if fleetingly — its more appealing past.

One man who had greatly looked forward to the Lahore Test was the writer Saadat Hasan Manto, whose stories about Partition have been widely and justly anthologised. Himself a former citizen of Bombay, Manto was listening to the radio commentary on the Bahwalpur Test, when he had a sudden seizure and died. He had told his friends, in almost his last conversation, that he wanted to see the Test match at Lahore.

There are many reasons to regret Manto's death. One is that we shall never know what this prophet of inter-communal amity might have written about the 10,000 Indians who came across the border for the Test. For this match the usual visa restrictions had been waived. The Wagah check-post, usually so impenetrable from either side, was left open for the buses and trains which carried the visitors. Since Lahore was so close to the border, the Indian fans came every day from Amritsar. They returned home by nightfall; even so, this was certainly "the biggest mass migration across the frontier since Partition".

The influx of Indians was reported by the Associated Press of Pakistan under the heading "Friends Cried". This was the scene outside the ground on the morning of the match:

Ladies, Sikhs, Hindus and the local population waited patiently and decently for their turn in the serpentine queue lines running two to three furlongs in length sometimes even more.

The city itself was in a gay holiday mood. The early morning bustle was reminiscent of the Shalimar Mela, excepting that the composition of the crowd was of a higher order.

Visitors from India, including a large number of ladies, sauntered undaunted on the roads and in the streets of Lahore, reminding one of the pre-Partition days and speaking eloquently of the state of orderliness that now prevails in the Punjab.

Sikhs were particularly conspicuous and were the centre of attraction wherever they went. They were recipients of unsolicited greetings and unexpected welcome. Some of them even cried when they embraced their old friends in the city.

The reference to the crowd being of a "higher" order is intriguing. Higher in what sense? Socially, economically, or ethically? It seems that the Indian tourists stoked a warm nostalgia for the days of the undivided Punjab.

Tongawallahs in Lahore gave free rides to the visitors; hotels offered free lunches and teas. Some money must have changed hands, for a sharp rise in the blackmarket rate of the Pakistani rupee was reported. Normally pegged at 100 for 70 Indian rupees, the rate during the Test was the reverse: 70 Pakistani for 100 Indian. Still, the camaraderie was altogether genuine. A journalist from Madras remarked that "great fraternisation among the Pakistanis and the Indians was witnessed everywhere during the Test match days".

The interested reporters followed the Indians back to the border. The visitors took tangerines and rock salt — items scarce in their own country — home with them, but said that "by far the most precious thing we are carrying is the goodwill of (the people of) Pakistan". Spot interviews by a Lahore journalist revealed a distinct "change in their mental outlook". A young Sikh of a West Punjab family told the reporter: "I was a fool to imagine all these years that Pakistan is unsafe for non-Muslims. I have been here four days now and wherever I went I have nothing but goodwill and friendship." A white-haired Hindu who lived in Lahore before Partition said that he felt "as if I have returned to my old home. Lahore has not changed much. Nobody here asks whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim, or Indian or a Pakistani ... . It is so different from what many fanatics in East Punjab want us to imagine."

No sporting event in living memory had evoked as much interest as this Third Test. The ladies of Lahore had their hair waved and permed beforehand, and wore their "choicest and fanciest dresses" to the match. Indeed, the entire city was "crazy about cricket all these four days. Work in all offices — commercial and government — was slack. Almost the whole of Lahore — minus (those) who were lucky to go to the stadium — listened to the radio from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, while boys played cricket on the fields, in courtyards and in gardens — all in a gay holiday mood."

The Pakistan Governor-General had been warmly received in Delhi, 10,000 ordinary Indians made to feel at home in Lahore. However, in the last weeks of the cricket tour the goodwill on the field was set against the revival, off it, of the Kashmir dispute. The Pakistan Prime Minister, speaking in London, said that "it must be a matter of the utmost concern to the conscience of the free world that after seven long years the four million inhabitants of Kashmir should still (be) denied the right of self-determination". A Cabinet Minister, addressing a refugee settlement in West Punjab, insisted that "the State of Jammu and Kashmir was destined ultimately to acede to Pakistan".

After Lahore the cricketers played their fourth successive draw, in Peshawar. The final Test was to be played in Karachi, in a wonderful new stadium built outside the city, on a patch of levelled ground surrounded by hills. This stadium, evidently Karachi and Pakistan's answer to Bombay's Brabourne, had cost Rs. 15 millions. It was built at breakneck speed, four months from start to finish, 5,000 workers working round-the-clock in eight-hour shifts. To mark its inauguration, Dawn issued a 10-page cricket supplement, with contributions by the stadium's chief engineer sitting alongside essays on the game itself. Cricket, wrote one contributor, had become the national game of Pakistan. "A Kardar and a Fazal now mean to an average Pakistani more than a Clark Gable or Ashok Kumar". The new premises were named the National Stadium, and in keeping with the spirit of the occasion there was a long essay on "Aligarh University and Muslim Contribution to Cricket". This traced the history of Muslim teams from the late 19th Century, showing how "cricket in the sub-continent owes a lot to Muslim initiative and enterprise and in particular to the glorious contributions of Aligarh". Whether through ignorance or oversight — or worse — the author forgot to say that the first promoter of cricket in Aligarh was a Hindu, Pandit Rama Shankar Mishra.

For the Test itself the stadium was packed, 50,000 people inside the ground and another 5,000 to 10,000 on the promontories overlooking it. Dawn counted 3,000 cars and 4,000 bicycles parked outside. Cricket in both India and Pakistan was an all-class game, but some classes were evidently more equal than others. One viewer complained that a few select stands had all the facilities: shamianas and carpets and flower pots and bottled drinks on ice. The cheaper galleries had none of these, no protection even from the overhead sun. "It is really a disgraceful attitude on the part of the authorities concerned," wrote A.F. Shaikh, "that the poor man who will be foregoing a week's ration or the pleasure of replacing his torn shirt, in order to witness this Test match, should receive such nonchalant treatment".

In the end, rich and poor alike had reason to be disgusted with the cricket. The Karachi Test was also drawn. Abdul Kardar was determined not to lose at home. Vinoo Mankad was loath to take risks in his first series as captain. The bowlers of both sides bowled to stop runs rather than to take wickets. As an Indian critic wrote, "the defensive approach to the game by both Mankad and Kardar ruined all prospects of reaching a decision, while whatever the justification, it took the life out of each match and reduced the whole series to a mockery".

Others were less gloomy, reading a cheering message into the fact that cricket was played at all. At a reception after the final Test, the Mayor of Karachi suggested that while the series featured five draws, the matches "were a success for humanity". The Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram, speaking for the Indian Board, thought that "where politicians had failed, we (cricketers) succeeded by coming nearer to each other". He now grandly proposed that the two countries play each other every alternate year, on the England-Australian model. Those countries competed for the Ashes, so Vizzy suggested that India and Pakistan should play for an urn containing the soil of both countries.

It was a suggestion typical of Vizzy, derivative and witless at the same time. In what proportion, one wonders, would he have the soil of either nation? A pound of soil for India and a pound for Pakistan? Or in proportion to their populations? A more creative proposal came from a letter-writer, Syed Khan Bahadur of Rawalpindi. He said that India and Pakistan should play for a "Gandhi-Jinnah Trophy", for a big-sized shield bearing silver replicas of Mahatma Gandhi and the Quaid-e-Azam side by side. These would be based on "photographs of corresponding postures of the two great statements", the money for the trophy's casting being contributed equally by the two governments or, better still, from subscriptions canvassed from the general public.

This was a splendidly well-intentioned idea. It is an appealing thought: Gandhi in his loin-cloth next to Jinnah in his suit and tie and fez, adorning a cricket trophy. It was generous of a Pakistani to place the names alphabetically, rather than demand, as a chauvinist would, that it be called the "Jinnah-Gandhi Trophy". But perhaps it is just as well that the proposal did not leave the pages of the newspaper. To place those two disputatious lawyers side by side, even in after-life, would have been a certain recipe for conflict.

Ramachandra Guha has held academic positions in Europe, North America and India. Since 1995, he has been a full-time writer, based in Bangalore. His first book, The Unquiet Woods, a study of the Chipko movement, is commonly regarded as having founded the field of environmental history in India. His other books include Environmentalism: A Global History and Savaging the Civilized, a life of the tribal rights activist Verrier Elwin. He also has a parallel career as a cricket writer and has published two anecdotal histories of Indian cricket, Wickets in the East and Spin and Other Turns.

Edited excerpts from A Corner of a Foreign Field: the Indian History of a British Sport, Ramachandra Guha, Picador, 2002, p.496, Rs.495.

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