The India-Pakistan love-hate story is a mystery wrapped in an enigma indeed! And no matter what happens at the Eden Gardens today, we will be no closer to solving it.
We love them, we hate them… We love them more than we hate them… No, we hate them more than we love them. India, clearly, cannot decide when it comes to Pakistan. Of course, we know we cannot ignore them. When it is cricket, the confusion within becomes more confounding.
We don’t want to play cricket with them but we cannot do without a match with them. What’s a tournament victory without a clash with them?
Of course, we want them to lose, and lose badly. Of course, we know they have the potential to spring a surprise on us anytime. We will reduce galleries in stadiums to ashes, shame our heroes and work ourselves into a frenzy if we are humbled by Pakistan, but deep inside we crave for that contest. Playing with Australia, South Africa and England is fine, but the thrill quotient here is hardly any match for what a game with Pakistan offers.
India adores Pakistan’s cricketing heroes. The likes of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younus, Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi are as much loved in India as in their own country. Forget the manufactured controversy over Afridi’s recent remark, we know what he said is true. The Indian cricket fan’s bonding with the stars from across the border is unique, very special. Stars from other countries such as Shane Watson, Brett Lee and Chris Gayle maybe respected here, but it is never the same as with Pakistan’s players.
The love-hate story is mired in the legacy of partition and politics on either side in the post-partition decades. There’s too much toxicity around on both sides to spoil a normal neighbourly relationship, but again, that’s only a small part of the big narrative.
When cricket gets involved, the narrative becomes complex. When not in power political parties would portray Pakistan as the enemy No.1 and cry themselves hoarse against any cricketing engagement; once in power they would find cricket as a big building block to normalising relations. The BJP did so when in opposition, the Congress stopped the match from being held in Himachal Pradesh now that it is in power.
A big section of the supporters of the current dispensation is deeply inimical to Pakistan but that the rulers would risk their displeasure to give the go-ahead to the contest on Saturday is a clear indication that the game means much more than a match of skills involving 22 players on a 22-yard plot. Cricket’s curative properties are recognised by the political class in both countries but they would like the game to be a tool of convenience rather than necessity in their larger game-plan for bilateral ties.
We can choose our friends but not our neighbours, said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh some years ago in the context of Pakistan. But Pakistan is much more than a neighbour, unlike Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The relation between the two countries is more like a family feud – the parties on both sides of the fight and hate each other, but they are deeply attached to each other too. You find none of the rancour and bitterness during people-to-people interaction involving both the countries. The bonhomie and jovialness among ordinary people is infectious indeed. It sometimes leaves you wondering whether these people are really capable of the kind of hatred for each other they are accused of.
The game offers a solution. Take the politics out and let cricket take over for some years. It could be the balm for frayed nerves and tempers. The story of India and Pakistan is complex; cricket could make it simpler.