Calcutta, Dec. 24: They stormed into Howrah station this afternoon, and by evening had stormed into people's hearts. A group of about 50 youngsters and some grown-ups is touring the country with one purpose ' peace. And their weapon is cricket.
Beyond Boundaries was initiated by Delhi-based NGO Leap-frog, in association with Plan India and Action Aid in April, when a team of 32 crossed the Wagah border from this side, travelling to six cities in 13 days. In the reciprocal visit, 21 Pakistani and 25 Indian youngsters are stopping at nine cities and towns over 22 days, bat and ball in hand, to play Cricket for Peace.
The underprivileged youngsters arrived for a three-day sojourn. The programme, hosted by an NGO CINI Asha, included a visit to Raj Bhavan to meet governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, with whom they shared their experiences and thoughts.
Khurram, a book binder in Lahore, had to give up education because of financial difficulties. The high point in his life: the love he received from India. And, of course, meeting Sunjay Dutt in Mumbai. 'He was wearing torn clothes and I asked him whether he had come from a shoot. He said 'hum to kangal hain, aise hi kapde pehente hain (I am a pauper and wear clothes like this)',' smiles the 18-year-old.
He and his friends agree that though they are tired from the hectic running around, no one misses home. 'Yeh to ghar hi hai (this is home).'
But for Hasim from Delhi, who works by day and studies by night, the April trip to Pakistan was the most 'amazing' experience. 'I drove a rickshaw and I never thought people would ask for my autograph. Even shopkeepers... refused to take money from us because we were Indians. They love us a lot,' he recalls.
The governor told the group to carry the message back home that 'Indians are full of love for their neighbours'.
Actor Nandita Das, wife of Leapfrog director Saumya Sen ' who initiated the programme ' was with the kids today, determined to 'just be with the children and have fun'.
The two groups of youngsters have become fast friends, and they play ball with Calcutta kids over the weekend, before heading to Hyderabad on Monday.