The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- There are times when history is better forgotten
Individual style

Historians are supposed to remember the past, but sometimes it is best if citizens forget all about it. The recently concluded Premier Hockey League was won by the Hyderabad Sultans, a side that had as many as three Pakistanis in its ranks. That was a nice, accidentally ironic touch; for time was when the Pakistani state had done its best to make sure that Hyderabad did not become part of India. This was back in 1948, when the Nizam was refusing to follow his fellow princes and join the Indian Union. Egging him on was his dewan, a known Pakistan sympathizer named Mir Laik Ali. Behind him lay a group of fundamentalist razakars, led by one Kazim Razvi. Razvi had a portrait of the Pakistani leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, prominently displayed in his room. As he told a visiting journalist, he greatly admired Jinnah, adding that 'whenever I am in doubt I go to him for counsel which he never grudges giving me'.

Hyderabad was separated from Pakistan by a thousand miles of Indian territory. Jinnah knew that the Nizam could scarcely accede to his nation, but he would still try and see that he did not join the other one. it was said that his support for an independent Hyderabad was in revenge for India having wrested Kashmir from his grasp. Indeed, Jinnah went so far as to tell Lord Mountbatten that if the Congress government in Delhi 'attempted to exert any pressure on Hyderabad, every Muslim throughout the whole of India, yes, all the hundred million Muslims, would rise as one man to defend the oldest Muslim dynasty in India'.

The Congress (and Mountbatten) exerted pressure nevertheless. But the Nizam would not yield, egged on by the razakars, by Tory politicians in Britain (still resentful that they had 'lost' India), and by elements in Pakistan. Finally, in September 1948, the government of India sent troops into Hyderabad. Whether by accident or design, the Indian action took place but two days after the death of Jinnah. In Karachi, a crowd of five thousand marched in protest to the Indian high commission. The high commissioner, an old Gandhian named Sri Prakasa, came out on the street to try and pacify them. 'You cowards,' they shouted back, 'you have attacked us just when our Father has died.'

When, last month, the Hyderabad Sultans defeated Sher-e-Jullundar to win the first Premier Hockey League championship, luckily no one in the vast crowd at the Gachibowli knew or remembered this history. They could thus salute, with proper abandon, their team's real heroes, the defender (and drag-flick specialist), Sohail Abbas, and the goalkeeper, Ahmed Alam. Just as luckily, Abbas and Alam knew nothing of this history either. They were, like their supporters, metaphorically, on top of the world; and in Ahmed Alam's case, literally on top of the goalposts, which he climbed as soon as the final whistle blew.

Meanwhile, across the country in Punjab, another Pakistani sportsman was enjoying a most productive time in India. This is Intikhab Alam, who is currently serving as the coach of the Punjab Ranji Trophy team. In his playing days, 'Inti' was a hard-hitting batsman and an artful slow bowler. One of his wards is also a spin bowling all rounder, albeit with the other (left) hand. This is Yuvraj Singh, who has already been telling journalists that Intikhab has taught him more than any coach he has ever known.

This is wonderful and also, to a historian, somewhat ironic. For Intikhab was born in the town of Hoshiarpur, then in East, now in the Indian, Punjab. Once, both parts of Punjab were multi-religious. Lahore was as much a Hindu and Sikh city as a Muslim one, while the most numerous community in the holy city of Amritsar were not Sikhs but Muslims. However, in the bloodbath of 1947, East Punjab was ethnically cleansed of Muslims, at the same time as West Punjab was cleansed of Hindus and Sikhs. Yuvraj is too young and (happily) too ignorant to know of this history. His coach knows of this history, and must have his own, not very pleasant, childhood memories of it, but he also chooses (wisely) to ignore it. And thus, the history forgotten, Pakistani coach and Indian cricketer can come together in the glory of the game.

The partial 'thawing' of Indo-Pak relations in recent months has witnessed an increasing traffic across the borders. Pakistani scientists and scholars have travelled through India, giving lectures and screening films; Indian industrialists have visited Pakistan, seeking contacts and business opportunities. The bus service between New Delhi and Lahore has resumed. Soon, we are told, there will be buses plying between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar; and also a train linking Rajasthan and Sindh.

Only the fundamentalists and cynics will oppose greater 'people-to-people' contact between India and Pakistan. Still, one must distinguish between two kinds of contacts. The first is between divided families; as for instance those who lie on either side of the line of control in Kashmir. The other is between citizens of the two countries who do not share ties of kin or faith. Naturally, much energy and emotion has been invested in encouraging the first kind of contact. It is time that comparable energy (and emotion) was invested in the second kind, for in the long term it shall be even more important to a stable, healthy, harmonious, normal relationship between the citizens of India and the citizens of Pakistan.

This relationship is normal when the citizens deal with each other as individuals; it becomes abnormal, or charged with animosity, when they deal with each other as representatives of their respective nations. Had Sohail Abbas and Ahmed Alam come here as part of a Pakistani hockey team playing (and probably thrashing) an Indian hockey team, they might have had an altogether different reception. But since they came as individuals, their talents and skills were appreciated in and for themselves.

I think that the success in this respect of the Premier Hockey League calls for emulation by other sports, especially that south Asian sport par excellence, cricket. Some years ago, the novelist, Mukul Kesavan, suggested that test and one-day matches between nations, the staple of international cricket, be supplemented by an inter-city tournament. The time has come to revive that suggestion. Kesavan had a global tournament in mind, but we might begin with south Asia alone. And begin on a modest scale, with a week of Twenty-Twenty matches played alternately in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, between teams representing the cities of those countries. Each side would be composed, as are football teams in Europe, of a mix of locals and outsiders.

The possibilities are intriguing. Think of Sachin Tendulkar playing (under contract) for Karachi, a port city not dissimilar in character and culture to his native Mumbai. Or of Virender Sehwag turning out for Multan, with that city's most famous batsman, Inzamam-ul-Haq, appearing for Delhi. Sourav Ganguly will of course captain Dhaka, and Muttiah Muralitharan might play for (and even captain) Jaffna.

The Premier Hockey League has been acclaimed as a giant step for Indian hockey. That it may or may not be; what it unquestionably has been is a small step towards Indo-Pak friendship. Next year, more Pakistanis will play in it. Can we hope that in the year following there will be a south Asian cricket league as well'

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