Men in blue, men in green, a white ball and stadium full of ranting and raving Indians and Pakistanis. These are sights and sounds no one will forget for a long time. The Americans might have been hunting the Al-Qaeda in Waziristan, and in India political parties might have been sparring over the forthcoming elections. But all this took the back seat as over 18 magical days of the one-day series, cricket united the people of India and those of Pakistan in the most unexpected, and heart-warming, way.
This was no dream. This was real. Indian and Pakistanis sat together yet did not set the stadium on fire when their sides lost. Indians cheered when Pakistanis played well and Pakistanis applauded the Indians. They exchanged flags and shirts, they made friends, they invited each other out, and they expressed surprise at how easy it was to be friends. After this, can anyone doubt that ordinary people in Pakistan want peace with India?
Yet, even this most exciting of discoveries, that people really do want to live in harmony, should not make us turn our faces away from other, not so pleasant, realities within our nations and between our nations. For even as India and Pakistan were fighting it out on the cricket ground to claim the Samsung Cup in Lahore, in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, another contest was taking place. In a move that could have far-reaching consequences if it succeeds, nine women members of the National Assembly, led by People's Party member Sherry Rehman, moved a Private Member's Bill titled Protection and Empowerment of Women Bill.
The Bill asks the Government to take a series of measures. The most important of these is repeal of the draconian Hudood Ordinance brought in during the reign of President Zia-ul-Haq. The Bill also asks for compulsory primary education for children under 10, equal participation of women in all walks of life, equal pay for equal work, prohibition of violence against women and honour killings, freedom for every woman to marry a person of her choice, separate women's wards in jails and at least one-third seats for women on the council of Islamic Ideology, the Planning Commission, the Board of Directors of the Pakistan International Airlines, the University Grants Commission and autonomous bodies.
In India, the victory in cricket has resulted in some over-the-top reporting in the media. Headlines like "Karachi captured" or "India draw first blood" might be clever but are hardly conducive to injecting a sense of perspective about the games and the reality of our relations with Pakistan. The cricketers keep emphasising that this is just a game. But the politicians and the media will not allow it to be just that. So when Irfan Pathan does well in Pakistan, he is asked how he feels playing in Pakistan. Why is he being asked that? Because he is a Muslim? Because he is from Gujarat? Because his father has to make sure he is waving the national flag when India wins the series? Can all this exultation about one young Muslim from Gujarat, from Vadodara, scene of some of the worst massacres barely two years back, wipe away the stain of Gujarat?
The euphoria generated by the Indo-Pak cricket also should not obscure the other reality that there are people on both sides of the border capable of destroying any possibility of peace in a moment. We have seen evidence of this already even as Virender Sehwag was playing the innings of his career in Multan. Launching the election campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena in Mumbai, Bal Thackeray reportedly said that he would "allow" Pakistanis to come and play cricket in India if our team returned after this tour without any problems and if cross-border terrorism came to an end. No one stops to ask how one man, sitting in Mumbai, who holds no elective office, has the audacity to state that his permission is needed for the Pakistani team to come to India. Yet, this is the reality of India's majoritarian politics, where a party in power would have us believe that it wants good relations with our neighbour and yet it shares a platform with a party whose chief has ensured that a Pakistan cricket team's tour of this country is extremely difficult.
It is ironic that Indians continue to believe that we are the moderate nation and that Pakistan is dominated by extreme elements. Yet, if you compare the media's handling of the five one-day matches between India and Pakistan, the latter emerges far more restrained. The obscurantists in Pakistan have made no statements equivalent to the ones made by Bal Thackeray. And the Indian Parliament has refused to even discuss a Bill about women's representation in Parliament while Pakistan is even now debating Sherry Rehman's bill that seeks to ensure equal rights for women. So what is the reality? Who is moderate and who is extreme?
The reality of course is that both countries have their fair share of both. The extreme voices are heard; the sensible are silent. The most wondrous aspect of the cricket series is that for the first time, Indians are getting to hear an abundance of the sensible ordinary voices of people from Pakistan.
Here's a concluding quote from a person who went to Karachi for the first one-day match. After describing the loads of hospitality and generosity that he encountered from very ordinary people, he writes: "It is really sad that we have an impression of that country that is so negative. I shudder to think of the plight of Pakistanis who would come to India when the Indo-Pak matches will happen here. Sad, that we consider ourselves "secular" and yet will spare no thought before making negative statements on that country. It's sad but true, this experience teaches one that ... `Perception is not reality'."