ANALYSIS : Why Pakistanis are warmer than Indians — Ajaz Ashraf
For the Indian reader, Pundits will shatter the stereotypical image of Pakistan as the land where there is jihad in every heart, a Kalashnikov in every hand, and a bomb in every bag
It was happenstance I completed reading Pundits from Pakistan, Rahul Bhattacharya’s magisterial account of the Indian cricket team’s tour of Pakistan in the spring of 2004, two days before the recent announcement of resumption of cricketing ties between the two neighbours. Exquisitely written, peppered with incredible anecdotes about the cricketing rivalry between the two countries, Pundits from Pakistan rekindles the memories of the breathtaking finishes in one-day Internationals, the forever fluctuating fortunes of the Test series, and the frisson the subcontinent experienced during the six weeks of flamboyant cricket which, in some ways, redefined the delectable Orwellian definition of serious sports as ‘war minus the shooting’.
For the aficionados of the game, as also those who cannot fathom the mercurial nature of Pakistan cricket, Bhattacharya provides a peep into the genius of the great Abdul Qadir, and the organising skills of Arif Abbasi, thrice the CEO of the Pakistan Cricket Board. He is quoted as saying, “Look, there are only two things...which run right through this country...one is Urdu, and the other is cricket.” As you read the book, you cannot but help realise there is actually a third thing Pakistanis are exceptional at: hospitality, their warm welcoming of guests, particularly from India, and the lavishness of their generosity. Indians, in comparison, are such big scrooges.
Admiration for Rahul’s prose gradually segues into wistfulness for the spring of 2004 as he takes you to the bustling markets, through thronging lanes, to the decadent, bohemian Lahore, stoned and tippling night and day, to the rugged Frontier, shivering, even then, in the fear of militants. Wherever he went, there were Pakistanis willing to embrace him as their own — a brother long lost but now returned to them, prompting him to note, as he waited to take the flight back to India. “...I thought of 135 A/9-L and I thought that for six weeks I had been made to feel special and that would now go away.”
Rahul encountered 135 A/9-L, a village, on his way to Harappa. Stranded, he asked a person, one Mr Rana, for directions, who invited him to have tea. Soon the entire village descended on Rahul, quizzing him on Bollywood and colleges and more. Mrs Rana invited him to “bathe and nap and eat” at her place, since he “must be tired and hungry”. Rahul writes, “Thereafter, rambling through the burning remains of an ancient civilisation was an anti-climax.” Equally poignant was the night the manager of the hotel where Rahul was staying took him to Laxmi Chowk, Lahore, after they had imbibed bootlegged vodka. As they partook of the delicious maghaz there, the hotel manager took to exclaiming, “I love India,” to which the Indian guest responded, “I love Pakistan.” For the Indian reader, Pundits will shatter the stereotypical image of Pakistan as the land where there is jihad in every heart, a Kalashnikov in every hand, and a bomb in every bag.
You might wonder whether Rahul’s observations on Pakistan were a case of happenstance, or that his perspective was coloured because of his hosts, mostly journalists, who have the skills to cull the positive as much as the negative from a situation. Aren’t we, in many ways, masters of spin? Yet just about every cricket writer who has visited Pakistan, barring those who don’t venture out of their hotel rooms because of their unfounded fears, testify to the generosity of its people. Their obstinate refusal to accept money for goods purchased or food eaten, their insistence on taking strangers from India home for tea or drinks, their effusive hugs followed by the disclaimer that politics has divided a people, and, at times, the thoughtfulness of security men shadowing the visiting Indian, procuring for him the bootlegger’s bottle of delight. This perception was also what a senior police official, whom I bumped into last week, claimed to have experienced on his trip with a senior state personage.
The spirit of 2004 was not an exception, said Pradeep Magazine, who was the first to bring to light the menace of match fixing in cricket. To me, he recounted his experience of covering the Independence Cup in 1997, when India played against Pakistan in Pakistan to commemorate the 50 years of the birth of the two nations. He had been moved by the inexhaustible flow of affection for the Indian, particularly noting the absence of animus against India among the many he met there, and immensely impressed by their munificence.
Pradeep cited an experience from his 1997 visit to underline what had changed in 2004. Coming out of the Karachi stadium, he came across a child who was weeping bitterly. He asked him why he was distraught, to which the child replied, “Pakistan has lost.” Pradeep’s response was typically the elder’s: “It is just a game.” The child countered, “We have been taught never to lose to India.” This sentiment, Pradeep thought, was absent in the Pakistan of 2004, as the tricolour and the star and crescent were stitched together, and a Pakistani, draped in the Indian flag, ran around the Lahore stadium at India’s victory.
It has been a conundrum to many why the ordinary Pakistanis are so welcoming of Indians in contrast to what the ordinary Indian is to Pakistanis. Everyone has his or her own theory, ranging from cross-border terrorism prejudicing the Indian against the Pakistani, to Islam’s emphasis on the generous treatment of guests, to Pakistan’s domination by the Punjabis who, on either side of the border, are effusive, earthy and perpetually in search of a cause to have raucous celebrations.
I have my own explanation, an explanation stemming from the popular tendency to perceive India as Hindu and Pakistan as Muslim. Look at the demography of the two countries — Hindus constitute less than two percent of Pakistan’s population and are concentrated in Sindh. By contrast, Muslims comprise nearly 14 percent of India’s population and are spread countrywide. The minuscule presence of Hindus in Pakistan enabled its people to bring a closure to the bloody legacy of Partition; their absence from most regions in Pakistan ensured the dark memories of 1947-48 were not rekindled to feed fresh narrations of communal differences. Pithily, there are/were too few Hindus to contend with, riot against and feel insecure about their loyalty. Subsequently, new generations of Pakistanis grew without having the ‘lived experience’ of hatred for Hindus, co-terminus with Indians, thus liberating them from the shackles of history in welcoming the Indian as a long-lost brother or sister whose grandfather was opposed to the creation of Pakistan.
It is the opposite in India, where the memory of Partition was/is harped upon in contemporary narrations to trace the provenance of their barely concealed suspicion of each other, which erupts into periodic violence. There was/is always present a Muslim and the symbols of his/her faith in India as a reminder of the grim past, which is malleable enough to be reinterpreted, renewed, and brought to cast its shadow on community relations in the present.
So take heart, you the Pakistani who feels the Indian is indifferent to him or her. Or, better still, read Pundits from Pakistan, which Penguin Books has reissued, to fathom the depth of our admiration for your generosity and warmth.
The author is a Delhi-based journalist and can be reached at email@example.com