Rivalry & Camaraderie: Diary From the Stands at the Indo-Pak Match

The Dubai Stadium came alive on 23 September. There was a spirit of exhilaration, a sense of hysteria. A euphoria that cannot be put into words. After all, an India-Pakistan match did not happen every day! People hooted vociferously – the echo was reverberating outside the stadium even as we entered. And the game hadn’t even begun yet.

“Jeetega bhai jeetega, India/Pakistan jeetega!”

The homogenous sound of the crowd chanting this phrase in unison – for both India and Pakistan – percolated through the packed stadium. Impassioned cheer followed every boundary, dot ball and wicket. Almost every ball for that matter. People just needed a reason to release their energy and excitement.

Dubai: Indian and Pakistani players stand during the third match of Asia Cup 2018 Super Four between India and Pakistan at Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai, UAE on Sept 23, 2018. 

The constant cheer and banter created a peculiar cocktail of nationalism, rivalry and camaraderie as the match played out. Indians and Pakistanis get as riled up about such matches as they are excited to watch them - and for them to happen in the first place. As you know, India-Pakistan matches are not played easily or often, so the crowd had been waiting for this for a while.

Every once in a while, the polarised crowd would momentarily forget their teams and instead break into a dance when a Bollywood song played. It didn’t matter whether there was just a wicket or a boundary. They were just distracted by the sound of the music they had all grown up hearing, that they both identified with home, fun and celebration. On both sides of the border.

It was quite a spectacle, watching alternating clusters of green and blue figures dancing to Bollywood.

But there was an even more overpowering presence at the game, something far more discernible - the hawkers selling food and drinks. They sure looked desi but weren’t the least bit interested in the game – they just wanted to sell as much food, and as many bottles of cold water and soft drinks as they possibly could. Capitalism before nationalism, of course.

The hawkers sold all kinds of South Asian food: biryani, kebab rolls, samosas, and a more recent addition to our rich culture, fried chicken. The scent of our spices engulfed the stands, and was another constant distraction from the intense rivalry.

It became, after all, an interesting spectacle watching Indians and Pakistanis alike eating samosas and gleefully dancing together to Bollywood music between overs, while simultaneously booing each other and often throwing prejudicial jingoistic slurs, in the same language of course (okay, “similar-sounding” language). Ironic.

Almost a century ago, psychologist Sigmund Freud posited that “communities with adjoining territories and close relationships are especially likely to engage in feuds and mutual ridicule because of hypersensitivity to details of differentiation.” He poetically called it the “narcissism of small differences.”

Sounds familiar?

I know, I’m being almost ridiculously apolitical about this. I am well aware of the political realities.

But unlike territories, armies and resources, culture cannot be divided, fought over or owned. It can only be shared. Whether we like it or not, we are inextricably linked by our love for samosas, Bollywood and cricket.

Moments like last night’s game remind us about that, and give us the chance to reflect on the triviality of power politics in the face of our shared history and culture. They give us a breather from the enmity, where we are just siblings born to the same mother, engrossed in competition and rivalry in the spirit of sportsmanship.

I left the stadium with these complex emotions and lofty ideas of peace and love. And then I read the news.

My momentary idealism was crushed by the “small men” on both sides of the border.

. Read more on NEON by The Quint.Sehwag vs Afridi: Watch What Happens When Two Cricketers ClashRivalry & Camaraderie: Diary From the Stands at the Indo-Pak Match . Read more on NEON by The Quint.