| File picture of Pakistani supporters cheering their team. Pakistanis in Johannesburg changed colours Sunday to root for Sourav Ganguly’s India in the final against Australia.
Johannesburg: “Inshallah, kal jeet hamari hogi.”
Words spoken by Hamid Ali, known throughout Johannesburg as Chacha, late Saturday, while furiously preparing paan for a queue of Asian customers. Chacha is from Karachi and he will be cheering Team India all the way during Sunday’s final, which he’ll watch on television in the stall opposite his, at which a boy from Surat boasts the latest Bollywood fare, on CD and DVD.
“Yahan koi sarhad nahin hai. Indians, Pakistanis sab ek hain (There are no borders here. We are all the same),” says Chacha, while tapping his feet to “Keh do na, keh do na, you are my Sonia” playing in the Indian store. “I was supporting Pakistan initially, but since they were knocked out, I have obviously been backing India. And the boys have done us all proud. World Cup hamare do mulkon mein rahe, bas yahi khwahish hai (The only desire is that the World Cup remains with either of us).”
This is Fordsburg, a stretch in Jo’burg which can be described as a mini — or maybe fantasy Indo-Pak — where Chacha’s Paan is a must-stop (just as Bollywood browsing is a must-do) for every Asian dropping in for dinner at Bismillah or KFC or Mike’s Kitchen in the busy square. Sweet paan for rand 3 is the most popular, scoring over plain or tobacco. It’s only occasionally that “a Bengali” drops in and demands extra sweet for rand 3.50.
“I was born on the Indian side of the border, grew up in Karachi, and have now been in South Africa for over 10 years. I like it best here because the Indo-Pak problem is a non-issue. We all live and work here as one family. It is only back there that...,” laments the slightly-built paan conjurer, in whose 25 square feet stall at one corner of the bustling courtyard, Manikchand gutkha from Mumbai shares shelf space comfortably with Shahi Mewa from Karachi.
The neighbours nestle even closer in Bollywood Beat down the cobbled square, run by Mirza Meraj Baig, family and friends from Pakistan. Among the most popular dealers of DVD, VCD, CD of every possible Hindi hit, the large store usually cannot be missed for the larger-than-life presence of the Shah Rukh Khans and Hrithik Roshans, Aishwarya Rais and Bipasha Basus.
But on Sunday, Sachin, not Shah Rukh, will be the star attraction. “We will all be clapping for India on TV, in this store,” says Arfad, who lived in Lahore till he moved to Fordsburg two years ago, but has a sasural that hails from Nainital. “After Pakistan made only a guest appearance in this Cup before returning home, India has been our team.”
Akeel, in his early 30s, who has been in South Africa for five years now, is far more belligerent in his backing of India: “I have been supporting the Indian team from the start because the Pakistanis were not here to win. They weren’t even a team, there was more rivalry in the dressing room than on the pitch. Satta ke chakkar mein poora team barbaad ho gaya (Betting has ruined the team). And just look at the Indians, how they have fought as one unit.”
So, as a tribute to Team India, Bollywood Beat will practically shut shop Sunday and invite friends and family over to try and shout Indian to victory. They would have been at The Wanderers if the tickets in the black market weren’t so steep (last overheard, rand 4,000).
Praying for an Indian win in the Cup final just comes naturally to these Pakistanis. “Yahan Bharat-Pakistan dushmani ka koi chakkar hi nahin hai. This was a war started by the British that the Indians and Pakistanis back home are still fighting, not allowing either country to progress,” observes young Nasir, who has been in Jo’burg for just a year. “Out here, brown is the only distinction and so Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis all are one. Gham aur khushi, sab baant-tein hain hum (We share our joys and sorrows).”
In this harmony house, Bollywood means business with Shah Rukh, Amitabh Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan (take heart!) remaining the biggest draws. But for the past month, there’s no doubting who the superstar has been. “Asli hero to Tendulkar hai. He is fighting the whole world to take the Cup back to Asia,” says Akeel.
As a sudden squall hits Fordsburg late on Saturday and Indians and Pakistanis scurry for common cover, A.R. Rahman’s Vande Mataram can be heard blowing in the wind. Pity it didn’t reach those with the answers in Islamabad and New Delhi.