30 hours in India

10 04 2011

Ravi Shastri in the commentary box just before the India-Pakistan semi-final said that all the roads in Chandigarh led to Mohali. Maybe that’s why there were no signs when we got into Chandigarh. Our taxi-driver from the Wagah-Attari border was lost and the three people we asked for help all pointed in different directions! It was quite a contrast from the match towns I had been to in Sri Lanka (Kandy and Colombo) where you couldn’t drive 15 minutes without seeing a larger-than-life poster of Sangakkara or Afridi, but the atmosphere at the stadium when we finally got in more than made up for it.

The stadium gates were a half-mile trek from the where we got dropped off: me and my two girlfriends kept losing our flip-flops in the sand and the wild bush of the makeshift parking lot, but we didn’t slow down. We knew every cheer from the stadium – and there were many in that third over – meant an Indian boundary (we’d heard on the radio in the cab that India had won the toss). The boys needed us to be in the stadium ASAP.

We suffered a mini-heart-attack when the security at the first gate told us we couldn’t take our cameras inside but they let us through when we told them there wasn’t time to go back to Pakistan to drop off our banned belongings. There was still a bunch of Indian fans queued up to get in to the gate for the stand before ours – the three of us felt the need to make our Pakistani presence felt, so we held up our big Pakistan flag, let out something between a woohoo and war-cry and ran past them. Most of them responded by flashing their own flags and posters and laughing, all fun and good-natured. The policewoman at the final gate check didn’t give us too much trouble but refused to let us “bulbuls” (tapori for girls from Pakistan?) through unless we gave her some Pakistani change as a souvenir. We gave her a shiny purple 50-rupee note and we were in.

We couldn’t believe we had made it to Mohali.

Chacha Cricket and Chacha Lite. Photo credit: Saba Gul

We made it!

There were more Indian flags than people. Our stand – the PCA Members and Associates stand – had a section full of Pakistan fans, but there wasn’t a single empty seat in sight. It was also seriously hot and there was no shade, so I was glad I brought my floppy Pakistan team hat, the kind they never wear on the one-day field anymore. We finally found a place to sit on the stairs, next to a group of girls in Boom Boom jerseys who were reciting a prayer non-stop. Pakistan needed it too: Sehwag was demolishing our best fast bowler of the tournament.

Chacha Cricket and his Indian counterpart (in a tri-colour turban) were a few rows ahead of us. They posed for many, many dosti pictures and were constantly engaged in a side-match of their own with a group of young men in the neighbouring stand who seemed more interested in interacting with our stand than in following the match. It kind of reminded me of watching a match from the ladies’ stand at the NSK, where the neighbouring stands are impressively focused on things other than the cricket. The dosti chachas got kind of annoying after a while because they jumped up and blocked our view after almost every scoring shot, but the dancing turbans entertained everyone by singing (in Punjabi) and dancing pretty much non-stop for all the eight hours we were there.

A sea of tri-colour. Photo credit: Saba Gul

the non-stop dance party

Venturing out to get food in the innings break was a bit of a nightmare. There was no cold water or drinks (you couldn’t take water bottles inside the stadium anyway) and there was nothing left to eat except ice cream and aalu tikkis. I found out later that the VIP boxes hosting Prime Minister Gilani also ran out of tea, so I guess they just weren’t prepared for the number of people that showed up. Almost got stampeded on the way back but managed to bring in some warm mountain dew and cold samosas. The “Pakistani stand” had a warm, hospitable, awami feel to it – every few overs, someone would go get a box full of choc-bars or half a dozen coffees and just distribute them, so we didn’t stay hungry/thirsty for long.

My favourite moment of the match came in Wahab Riaz’s second spell. His two wickets in two balls shut up the 28000 Indian supporters and the few hundred Pakistani voices took over for a bit. Apart from the usual “Jeetay ga bhai jeetay ga…” slogans, a special naara for the star of the day made its debut: “Nahi karta kissi ka lehaaz, Wahab Riaz, Wahab Riaz.” It felt like there hadn’t been an Indian boundary for ages, we were high-fiving random Pakistani uncles (one of whom turned out to be Shahid Afridi’s chacha!) and even the dancing hecklers from the stand next door took a break, shoulders slumped – Pakistan were on top.

Wahab! © AFP

"Munnis & Sheelas Back in the Pavillion!" Photo credit: Saba Gul

Unfortunately, the self-assured feeling that the Pakistan fans had watching Wahab dominate towards the end of India’s innings didn’t carry through to the Pakistan innings. I guess I’m not the only one who’s ALWAYS nervous when we bat, even before the first wicket falls. Most fans around me felt we were batting too slow or losing too many wickets or, worse, already out of the game, even while Asad Shafiq was still at the crease. The Pakistanis in our stand started leaving when Umar Akmal got out, and were almost all gone by the time Wahab fell. Still, there were a few of us laughing and chanting “You can do it Misbah – do it for your average!” when he was hitting boundaries for fun near the end.

The Indian fans were gracious hosts after their win. As we stood near the exit, waiting for the crowd to clear out before we left the stadium, tens of locals walked up to us for a friendly handshake or a chat or a picture. A few even apologized for winning, and one decidedly confused guy actually told us we had been the better team, ha! Almost everyone thanked us for making the trip to India, which doesn’t sound like much but felt really good to hear. As we left Mohali to drive back to the border after some 2AM chicken tikka sandwiches at Subway (food at last!), we heard a random car stereo in a parking lot by the team hotel play the Meesha Shafi and Arif Lohar song from last season’s Coke Studio. I think it made me feel a little less broken about losing to India than watching Amir Sohail’s bitter post-match analysis on TV would have.

(A very edited version of this blog was published in the News on Sunday on April 10, 2011. Seriously, what on earth does “Riaz was bucked up” even mean?)




4 responses

10 04 2011

That is some serious editing by TNS. Also, boo ! I didn’t get to go so it’s not a nice story. Actually, it is.

16 04 2011
suneal varma

Wonderful piece of writing, Sana

16 04 2011

after reading a number of articles slagging off nationalistic injun celebrations after the semifinal it’s refreshing to read a feel good piece like this. well done.

16 04 2011

Shahid and Suneal: Thank you.

Kaprashoo: The nationalistic celebrations are inevitable, come on. 🙂 Glad you liked our story!

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