I ripped a square patch from the bunch of coupons that was with my ticket and I got myself a cup of coffee to soothe my aching throat. My friends and I had been jumping out of our seats, screaming as loudly as we possibly could with both our hands stretched above, throughout the first innings of the World Cup 2011 semi final match played between India and Pakistan. As much as our throats were sore from screaming, our palms were red because of all the super powered high fives that were part of the celebrations. But the silence that took over the crazy euphoria amongst a nation of cricket lovers in the second innings was eerie.
For most of my life I’ve lived outside of my home country and as much as I remember, I didn’t enjoy spending my summer vacations in Pakistan. As a child, to live in Pakistan meant to be surrounded by mosquitos, to embrace the idea of load shedding with open arms and to not open the door of a room when the ‘AC’ was on otherwise ‘cooling nahi hoti’. Survival in this part of the world seemed impossible after you’re used to bouncing in between luxuries.
I can still recall my last day in Jeddah. That day is etched in my memory and is crystal clear even though it’s been around 5 years now. I was too busy making sure everything was in place – I couldn’t take any chances because I was travelling with my uncle and paternal grandparents; both of whom were partially immobile and severely ill. I hugged my dad and sister goodbye at the airport and marched towards the boarding lounge holding four tickets carefully tucked into each of the passports. That was it. I had no time to process the fact that I was leaving the place where I had lived all my life only to go to a place that I never really liked. All that I knew was that staying optimistic wasn’t going to be easy.
Five years flew. Literally flew. Today, I don’t remember how it felt to be 18. Today, I don’t remember what exam stress was all about. Today, I don’t have childish wishes to go back to where I came from. Today, I only wait to explore what else the future has to unfold.
Apart from the electricity woes and zebra like mosquitoes that gave me dengue, this country has given me a new spectrum to look through. Had it not been for this place, I might have never driven a car. Had it not been for this place, I might have never become half the doctor that I feel I am. Had it not been for this place, I might have spent the rest of my life wearing jeans n t-shirts; refusing to look anything like a girl. Had it not been for this place I might have never found the strength to hold myself together when everything around me would be doing its best to shatter me into a million pieces. Had it not been for this place I might have never found a way to tame my temper. Had it not been for this place, I might have not lost a friend I thought I’d have forever. Had it not been for this place, I might have never ran into some people I will hold onto forever. Had it not been for this place I might have never learnt not to take every single relationship too seriously. Had it not been for this place, I might have never realized how patriotic I can get sometimes. Had it not been for living in Pakistan for the past 5 years, I might have not evolved as much as a person that I have.
I am not at all a sports lover but I have always enjoyed watching cricket. Cricket, especially when one of the teamsplaying is Pakistan. Cricket, more especially, when the other team is India! But then again, not until last Wednesday, I realized that I am not a huge cricket buff but that I am, without a doubt, a huge Pakistani supporter. A part of me laughed at myself for holding onto that hair thin string of hope until the third last ball of the match, waiting to witness a miracle and cheering for Pakistan’s victory. Such patriotism might seem ridiculous but I’ll tell you what, it was there. It was there in each and every person who watched the match with me that day. Uncles, aunties, boys, girls and even the children who gave us a migraine by having their own ‘whistle competition’ would jump up screaming whenever Pakistan would take a wicket or strike a boundary. I don’t know why this match was so much more than just a match; maybe because our country has been tagged with enough negativity in the past few years that we needed this win to prove ourselves or maybe because the game was against India? Either way, every Pakistani, living in Pakistan or abroad, would have taken that breathe of relief if Pakistan won that day. The win would have been our silent scream to the world that we are resilient, we can be winners and that corruption and terrorism do not define us. But some people fate had other plans perhaps.
I was too shocked to acknowledge how patriotic I felt that day. Two strokes of green and white on my cheek had managed to engrave the ‘go green’ spirit in my heart. With every breath, I prayed for our team to win, for our nation to hold its head high amidst all the accusing fingers. But I was in greater shock when I didn’t feel too upset at our loss. I was certainly disappointed; for all that matters I still don’t understand what was wrong with Umar Gul’s arm that day and whose wedding reception was Misbah taking a walk in?! I felt angry for the first 15-20 minutes of our announced loss after which I was as happy as I could possibly be after an extremely eventful day. Here’s why..
During the first few overs of the game, my friends and I took turns to get our face painted in different patterns of green and white. It just brought us into the whole ‘crazy cricket fans’ character 😛 All of us, guys and girls, got the paintings done and posed around like the rest of the crowd. All but one; this friend of ours refused to get his face painted. Nevertheless, he was very enthusiastic about the game and he screamed and danced like everyone else in the hall but he just wouldn’t get the flag up on his face. We watched the second innings rather quietly, with occasional jumps and high fives whenever a player would hit a boundary but when Pakistan lost its 6th wicket and when the last 10 overs or so were left in the game, each person in the hall knew what was going to happen. I rocked back and forth in my seat with both my hands clipped together, hoping to witness a miracle when our friend nudged me and another friend and said ‘hey lets go out for a walk’. We told him to shut up because he had been taking his so called ‘walks’ (cigarette breaks) much too often as the game became critical. After insisting that we accompanied him, which we didn’t, he left the hall alone. Five minutes later when he came back to his seat we asked him ‘karliya sutta?!’. He smiled at us and turned his face so that we could see his cheek and there it was – the green and white flag twinkling with the help of all the hope in his eyes! We exchanged high fives and got back to watching the game but something was stuck in the back of my mind. There was an unknown excitement, an unexplainable zest running up and down my spine. Despite of having to watch our team lose, my heart was full of an alien ‘happy patriotism!’. The green flag – on T-shirts, on faces, on hands, on his face .. it was celebration in itself.
This freak got his face painted when the whole world knew Pakistan would lose the game! The thought of what might have been going on in his mind makes me smile. His face beaming with all the hope and all his expectations pinned onto 11 players makes me smile. We always have hopes and fears for our cricket team. Even though we topped our group before the Semi finals, everyone knew that Pakistan was an underdog team. And given the unpredictable nature of our players and the game of cricket itself, no one can say what would happen.
Yes we lost. Yes a lot of things went wrong in that game. Yes we all know what some people fate did. Talk shows and newspapers were full of derogatory statements about the players of both the teams and the speculations seemed to be never ending. But facts remain facts. And the fact is that we lost a game. The fact is that some people got a good deal by crushing the hope of 180 million Pakistanis. The fact is that we reached the semi-finals by exceeding everyone’s, even our own, expectations. The fact is that our captain did not give a single immature statement against India or the Indian team. The fact is that our players kept their calm and did not see this game as ‘war’ with India. I once read somewhere that pictures speak louder than words.. and to watch moments when Afridi, the Pakistani team’s captain – my captain, patted Sachin’s back and when Wahab Riaz fell to the ground in prostration… now those are some hardcore facts! I couldn’t stop smiling and gazing at the crowd before my eyes when stuff like that was happening on the big screen – elderly men and women would be flying kisses towards our players, guys and girls would be dancing in celebration and the children.. well they just blew their stupid whistles harder *eyebrow raised* 😛 But jokes apart, the feeling was unexplainable; it was magnanimity at its best. We lost a game but the nation came together as one. Hopes were shattered but dreams continued to run wild. I felt my patriotism for my country touch unbelievable proportions. I feel so proud to own the green flag! We Pakistanis are way too stubborn to settle down as losers because of one cricket match. We will not be bogged down by this. We will play again and on one of the days, the game will be ours!