Thanks to the lack of television in the rooms in the RCA, we had to spend time in the mini-bus which had the television set. With the Pakistani driver and his attendant as company, it made for lively atmosphere. Dhoni’s hundred might be recorded as one on a flat batting surface, but the time at which he got it and the time in which he got it has to be admired. For a batting line-up with a batsman short and with half the side out, he and Pathan played beautifully. The pulled six of Shoaib Akhtar when Dhoni was new at the crease has to be one of the best shots of the tournament. It has been a long time since an Indian batsman has played that shot to a fast bowler. Tendulkar tries that occasionally in One-dayers and Yuvraj and Dravid normally play the ball down, while Ganguly took apart medium pacers. This reminded me of Lance Klusener’s six against Akhtar in the 1999 World Cup. It was similar as it was flat and against a fast, rising ball.
Outside the National Stadium in Karachi, the shops and hawkers infesting the area give it a feel of a good, proper, sub-continental city. Few second-hand book-sellers placed their carts for full display and exhibited the latest of Harry Potter books and a few everyday bestsellers as well. On closer view I found the Harry Potters to be pirated. That didn’t surprise me as much as to find Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice Candy Man pirated. The back-cover had the proper Penguin logo with the price mentioned as Rs.250. As I walked a few yards ahead, there was a book fair on. Here, much of the books were by Americans and Indians. Shobha De and Khushwant Singh were prominent, and so was Vikram Seth. There was a sports section where biographies of Arthur Ashe, Bjorn Borg and even Glenn Hoddle were neatly laid, but no, there weren’t any books on cricket. This was a slightly better collection of books than in the normal book fairs in Bangalore. Here, at least, over-published and under-par American books were accompanied by under-read English and Indian books. In Bangalore, there are piles and piles of poor quality American books, and nothing much else.
After buying nothing there, I went to a proper bookshop which seemed to have original books of various kinds. But even here, Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice Candy Man was a pirated copy. At least, her memoir on Lahore was an original one. Another country which had a major presence in this bookstore was Afghanistan. I bought a copy of My Khyber Marriage, a book I hadn’t heard of till then. It is a story of a British woman’s marriage to an Afghan Pathan and even though it looks almost like a pirated copy, I took the risk of buying it anyway. One of my friends, an avid reader of books, once told me that buying pirated books beats the very purpose of reading them. It is something which I too began to feel. Firstly, it is cheating the writer and his publisher. Secondly, the price advantage that a pirated book has over its original can be overcome with a bit of browsing at a second-hand bookshop.
Strangely, the only piracy that makes news in India is that of commercial films. Nagesh Kukunoor, in a seminar, had been scathing in his attack on the film-makers who complain about piracy. “When you can’t make an original film, how can you expect others to be honest?” Pakistan has a huge market for pirated films, and it does rouse suspicion as to why, in this time of cordiality, the cinemas here are prohibited from screening Hindi films. The argument that Indian cinema eats into the Pakistani market is valid; but so it is now, with video parlours openly selling Indian films, and the average movie-buff making no bones of his liking for Bollywood and its stars. One DVD-seller promised me that Rang De Basanti (released on the 20th in India) will be out on DVD here by 27th!
I found the reason why English newspapers in Pakistan aren’t omnipresent. They are priced at ridiculous rates. The Dawn and the Nation go at around Rs. 15 per copy and even if they do have a few supplements to claim, it still is a huge amount when you consider the Indian market where newspapers are slashing prices to survive the intense competition. Even Urdu newspapers are said to be priced at over Rs. 5 per copy; some costing around Rs. 8. In many ways, Pakistan’s is a small market, where the demand is far lesser than India’s and the supply is limited. This being the case in almost every category of business, the cost of many products is on the higher side. But a newspaper for Rs. 15 has put me off the business of getting to know the world.
At Faisalabad, meanwhile, Dhoni, Pathan and much of the Indian lower-order showed precisely why the pitches here are costing so much to the bowlers on either side. Sometimes, in the sub-continent, the fear of losing on a fast pitch sends teams down the safe lane. On a green-top, either team can win, but on a flat track, everybody goes home happy.
At the National Stadium in Karachi, the practice pitch looks green alright. As hard as conventional One-Day wickets, but it has quite a growth of grass, whatever that means to the teams.
The second Test at Faisalabad was as much a dull draw as that at Lahore; this being a trifle more embarrassing for men who have been asked to answer. After the Lahore Test, almost every expert was sure that Faisalabad was to be a fiery wicket. Imran Khan drew an analogy to 1978-79 when after a terribly boring first Test, two green-tops were prepared. But as the wish-list showed only one necessity the curators at the Iqbal Stadium still looked perturbed by the sheer helplessness wrought by the cold weather. More than one person, in defence of the curators, has come out and said that it was next to impossible to prepare any better wickets given the weather conditions in Punjab. When asked as to how England makes seaming tracks, they say there is a difference between the climates in the two places. Whatever the reason, this cannot be an excuse for the curators at Karachi.
This port city is burning hot during the day and gets cold as the sun sets.
The pitch has been covered with sheets of water-proof material. Sarfaraz Nawaz, the former Pakistan fast bowler, and now an expert with the local PTV felt the grass that has been left on the pitch at Karachi might actually die out before the match starts. He said the water-proof material which has been put on the pitch will suffocate the grass and unlike the mobile, ventilated coverings in places like England and Australia, there might not be much as has been so believed by few.
Sarfaraz was quite a standout in the studio-discussion for the cricket match on the PTV. The impression that he is a terminally ill patient of the foot-in-mouth disease is not entirely true. Accompanying Mushtaq Mohammad and an insufferable anchor, he displayed commonsense with his talk. The anchor, Mohsin Khan (is he the cricket player?), spoke as if he was the successor to Richie Benaud, and worse, as if people wanted to listen to him. At one point, during a replay of one of Dhoni’s innings, the graphic on screen showed only the runs and the balls taken. Taking up a non-existent case onto himself, he called for his studio mates, “Minutes dikhao, Minutes hai?” clearly audible to the viewer. After getting the answer in the negative, he added, “Oh theek hai.” At times, when Mushtaq would go back in his time machine to draw out a story from the past, our anchor would repeat the whole thing in his customary all-knowing fashion. Before you knew, and he knew of course, the lunch break would be over and for once, the cricket felt better. In all this mental disintegration the anchor caused, Sarfaraz would end up answering just one or two questions. With the discussion completely concerned with Pakistan’s day in the field, Sarfaraz and Mushtaq would make an effort or two put things into perspective; with the former hailing Dhoni as a true batsman and Mushtaq giving India due credit.
There were more who were prepared to wager on a three-day Karachi Test match. The pitch is taking up so much of the discussion here that people looking for tickets at the ground too have made sure the subject isn’t confined to the experts’ domain. The effect of the two horrible Test matches can be seen here. 15,000 free tickets have been announced for the third Test and the pitch, though shrouded by cover (and in partial mystery), has taken huge importance. Some people, expecting free tickets, went back when told that the only ones available in the counters today were of for Rs. 100. While the public and the media have been scathing in their attack of the curators, some officials are certain that they aren’t to blame.
Irfan, an employee of the PCB and a man looking after the online ticket bookings, was sure that the only reason for the poor quality of pitches was the weather. He also promised, as have so many in Karachi, that the third Test will not be a drawn match. There have been about 100 tickets bought by Indians online today and there are few more expected, he said. It isn’t just fans who are attracted to the contest, filmstars are flying here for the One-Day series. “Aishwarya aa rahi hai,” he added.
It was Irfan’s presence though which helped us play a game of cricket on the RCA grounds today. With the manual scoreboard as the wicket-keeper and the three boards displaying the runs scored as the wickets, it was a painful afternoon of cricket. Empty spaces on the leg side just wouldn’t help, as an odd ball connected with the bat and there being just one fielder, there was a lot of running and throwing to do. It was with the tape-ball that we played and this one had white cellophane tape pasted precisely on it. The seam was made of a layer of such tapes. In Lahore, I had an opportunity to just bowl medium-pace. But here, I tried spinning it and the result wasn’t as good. It spins very much like a new leather-ball does; an almost obligatory deviation to acknowledge the bowler’s effort, unlike the gripping and spitting of the rubber balls. And because of the smoothness of the surface, you cannot grip it as well as the cricket balls. I wonder if the lack of spin bowlers in Pakistan has something to do with it. “Shoaib Malik hai naa,” said Irfan, when asked about the next spinner after Danish Kaneria that Pakistan has. When told that he is a batsman now, he said, “Arshad Khan.” “He is old, any new ones around,” we asked. “Not that I know of,” he said. However, if we ask the question to ourselves, we would realize that there isn’t much after Kumble and Harbhajan. It looks even grimmer when you consider that Harbhajan has gone without a wicket in two successive Tests and Murali Kartik, the next in line, is close to thirty.
It is believed that Karachi is very close to Mumbai because of the cosmopolitan nature of the city. Quite a lot of Sindhis, Gujrathis and even South Indians live here. It is also one of the more open cities of the country. This is also one of the reasons why the Mumbai-Karachi analogy gains credence. Both cities are fast, industrious and modern, but both are weighed down by intense nationalists. Also, both have been subject to violence in recent times. It is said that there is a very good chance you can get mugged here if you flaunted your affluence. The city is notorious for its thefts, which invariably are achieved with guns in hand. Now many say it has reduced, but the fear is there. We have been told to keep away from a few areas, just in case. We have also been told to keep our mobiles firmly in our pockets and not to display them in the open. But so far, as much as I wanted not to use the cliché, Karachi looks and feels like India; even though I am not sure it is a Mumbai.
There is the first sign that work will start for the first time since arriving in Pakistan. Somehow the legalities have been put in place and it looks that there is, after all, a chance to do something.
Sehwag was overheard saying to someone that the Test would last not more than four days. The pitch is green on the surface and every bowler is just licking his lips at the prospect of getting his own back on this tour.
Every ground that you see in Pakistan bears a neat look. Unlike plenty of poorly maintained but hugely prosperous Indian stadiums, here, Pepsi’s sponsorship has played a big role. Everywhere there is a Pepsi logo, but the grounds are in top shape. The National Stadium at Karachi is no different. Well-kept seats, with ample space between the stands and the fences separating them from the ground, very good outfield and hopefully a good pitch, too.
The Indians walked into the National Stadium for practice after a day out at the Sea-side. Somewhat along the lines of the Marine Drive in Mumbai, Sea-side is a famous spot for city revelers. Inzamam has a very small chance of playing tomorrow and I have absolutely no clue of who is going to replace him in that eventuality. India might play Ganguly as the sixth batsman and given the confidence among groundsmen here, that sixth batsman might be extremely important.
At the stadium, I, for the first time on this tour, meet people of similar age and occupation. Engineers and advertising professionals are among them. All of them are curious to know about India, and for once, they are aware enough not to ask basic handshake questions that during a long tour can exasperate you with its monotony. Quite a lot of them have a good idea of various states of India and wish only to know the kind of people that there are. Some have even graduated to that level with their keen interest in chatting online. Some wanted to know the kind of softwares that are being used in India. And nobody ever talks about Pakistani movies. Movies, to them, start and end with commercial Hindi cinema made in Mumbai. With them though, unlike their slightly older compatriots, there is a firm feeling that they would visit India. So much so, that they talk about it without the slightest of doubt in their minds. Their desire might stem out of various factors – tourism, sentimentality, adventure or even professional necessity, but visiting India is just another journey for them.
However, in all the time that I have been in Pakistan and met its people, everyone has grabbed on to that part of Indo-Pak relations that presents a fantastic, emotional, friendly relationship. Nobody has, understandably, spoken about the bitterness that exists between the two nations. It does get a passing mention, but becomes a convenient rejection of politics spread by “siyasathi taakatein”.
And even in the third week of our stay in Karachi, it is hard for people to understand the concept of vegetarianism. With our cooking in full throttle at the RCA, the new inmates from the PCB find it hard to get used to it. Thankfully, they have restricted their cooking to bread and toast.
This was the most eventful day of the tour so far. The day started with Rahul Dravid winning the toss and electing to field. It was also the day when we were to start working for the first time, inside the National Stadium. And it was also the first time I saw a hat-trick live. When Pathan got those three wickets in the first over, who would have thought that Pakistan could get out of jail. I did. It was not very far back in history when Pakistan, 26/6 at the Eden Gardens, clawed back into the match thanks to their wicket-keeper Moin Khan and Salim Malik. Here, it was the present ‘keeper, Kamran Akmal, who did the trick. The huge crowd that had gathered at the National Stadium could not believe that from 39/6, Pakistan could get to 245, and take four of Indian wickets. My presence at cricket grounds hasn’t been lucky for Tendulkar and some day, I hope to see a century from him. This wasn’t the innings, though there was a good chance on a pitch that was getting better by the day. The four-day Test theory was looking all the more acceptable, only that some had prepared themselves for a third-day finish.
If the first day of the Test was dramatic, we weren’t prepared for the major surprise that awaited us. As packing up after the match took some time and with nobody in a mood to prepare food, we were off to Ponderosa. But on the way, we saw a roadside stall claiming to make “Bangalore’s real masala dosa”. The idea that one could even make such a claim was intriguing. So, taking an about-turn, we went to the stall owner and asked for masala dosa. As it turned out, that guy was from Bangalore, spoke Kannada and was a fan of Rajkumar. The first thing that struck me was that, of all the people in Karachi, we were to find a man who from Ulsoor and who had his roots in Krishnagiri (hence, spoke passable Tamil). As we made small talk with him in Kannada, it became apparent that his was a story, the kind of which I had only watched in movies.
Dildar Ahmed was born and brought up in India. He lived in Bangalore with his parents. At some point (he wasn’t clear as to when), he was adopted by his uncle, who was childless, and brought to Pakistan. Since then, he has been to the Gulf, but not to India. A man still longing to visit his old home, family and friends there, he has been craving for an opportunity. The moment he heard two of us speak in Kannada, he was stunned. His joy knew no bounds. His hands prepared the dough and put it on the stove, but his mind was flying through recalling old experiences, reviving past memories and remembering forgotten friends.
As the twenty dosas we ordered came one after the other, his mind would simply not rest. Bangalore had suddenly become an exotic place with so many things he wanted to enquire about and wanted to make do the backlog of 15-odd years away from the city. He had known something about the city from his relatives, who had visited him recently. But it wasn’t enough and he had time only till the twenty dosas were gobbled-up. With tears in his eyes, he went back in time to tell us his bizarre fate which landed him, of all places, in Pakistan. Here, he had no friends and not even a frequent relative. His uncle, who had brought him here, had long died. It was his uncle’s daughter, to whom he was married to. He spoke Urdu at home, and everywhere else in Karachi. On a good day at the office, he might get a Kannada-speaking customer (there were some people from Davanagere in Karachi, he said); on a good day at home, his radio might catch a Kannada station. But that was as much as was allowed to him as part of his past. When he met us, it was a bolt from the blue, an opportunity, rare as it might be, to see those days from our eyes.
There was more to his story. He had been to the Gulf and had learnt cooking through various classes. He owned a car in which he sold food. One night, when he was returning home, robbers accosted him, put a gun to his head, and took away all his money. Now, he had this stall. He wasn’t quite clear as to what happened to his car. But that wasn’t a question that could be easily asked on the day. There was so much he wanted to know. “I heard that Rajkumar was kidnapped by Veerappan,” he said.
After getting married in Pakistan, he has four children, all very young to share in his disappointments, and all too young to understand his nostalgia.
Very soon, it was apparent that there was a deep deposit of bitterness in him, at the detachment from his parents, and at his inability in going back to India. “I want to go back to India. If I go there, I won’t come back,” he says, as he deals rather brusquely with few other customers. “But now, it is not possible. I might not have a problem, but my wife and children will have a tough time to go back with me,” he added. Almost instantaneously, he asked, “Do you have any Kannada songs of old?”
To us, it was unbelievable that someone could stay out of Karnataka for close to two decades and still speak Kannada when all this time of his was spent conversing in Urdu. It is a lot easier for someone to remember Tamil and Malayalam, but not Kannada, and that too at a time when Bangalore itself is using less of the language.
As we left his stall, after ordering the next day’s breakfast, and went towards Saddar, a busy marketplace and then to our rooms, the meeting with Dildar looked all the more surprising. The odds on us finding such a man in Karachi was indeed very high.
Saddar is a place where one can find all kinds of merchandise. From clothes to CDs to photo shops to carpenters, it has everything. The only problem is that much of it is closed by 9.30 in the night. CD shops here have a collection of Hindi and English films. I am told that there has been a raid on piracy of late and hence, the newer Indian films haven’t made the market yet; at least they aren’t on the shelves, in the open.