| Amos Oz
I was in the cricket-free zone of Cyprus for two weeks at the end of July and therefore avoided witnessing the debacle of the first test, though not completely the quietly triumphal write-ups in the British press. A precis of these would read thus: “The balance has been righted in the cricket world because we have beaten India comprehensively. This is how things should always have been. No doubt the Indians have a side full of talent, but they are erratic and prone to collapse and the age-old English virtues of steady, doughty, ruthless play won the day — our oak-like footsoldiers were brilliantly led.”
“Famous last words”, I felt like sniffing, but they did seem to have the inescapable ring of truth. I began to watch the second test with not a little trepidation that the predictions made in my previous column would come true. Two Gujarati friends, husband and wife of African birth, went to Trent Bridge, and the first day was punctuated by phone calls to their mobile. Despairing curses as Tendulkar played on, just as he looked as though he had finished clearing his throat and was about to start a long concert. A stout defence of Ganguly by the Gujjus when I disparaged aamaader Prince.
There was panic in our voices, and much use of the Gujarati slang for infant — tainyu — when Parthiv Patel came in to bat. It was bad enough having in a Bengal player who seemed to regularly survive falling from the fourth floor of international cricket, without a Gujju kid, who had apparently actually done this in real life at the age of six, adding to our nail-biting. The rossogolla-dhokla combination didn’t last long. After a few deliveries, Parthivbaba jumped off the mezzanine between first and second floors.
By the time I caught the train to Edinburgh the next morning, I was projecting that the English would get 550 in their first innings. I was going up to the Edinburgh Festival to read from my novel, but when I got to my hotel room and switched on the TV, I found that the only festival visible was one of English batting. There was the figure of 617 dancing on the screen. There was rain pouring down outside my hotel window and, as the openers walked out to bat, I tried to find supernatural powers to send it to Nottingham. As we all know, it didn’t work, and no bad thing either.
Within two overs Dravid and Tendulkar were at the crease, and the turnaround that followed was one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen. The only prayer was that these two, India’s best two, would somehow survive till the next morning. This prayer went out of the window in fifteen minutes, or as soon as El Tendu’s third rocket had crossed the ropes. Back came that mild crocodile pity you feel for the other side’s bowlers when Tendu’s bat finds its range.
When play finished and I went down to the lobby, I was greeted by Tariq Ali and the writer, Kamila Shamsie, who had both just come in. “What’s going on in the cricket'” Tariq asked. “England 617”, I said, getting out the bad news first, and Tariq’s face fell. “Oh no”, said Kamila. I told them about Tendulkar and Dravid. “Brilliant”, said Tariq, with great relief. Both Tariq and Kamila are from Pakistan, but their reactions were exactly the same as mine would have been if Pakistan were having a bad time against England. Whatever one’s allegiances at home, if you spend enough time in London you start to appreciate that, in English eyes, an Indian and a Pakistani are hardly different. For any sensible person there would be no question of supporting England against a desi team.
At the Edinburgh Festival, I went in to see the session with Amos Oz, the Israeli writer. Oz is probably Israel’s most famous novelist and, though there are quite a few Israelis to the left of him, he is a fiercely outspoken critic of the Sharon government and it’s ongoing butchery of Palestinians.
After reading from the latest of his novels to be translated into English — The Same Sea — Oz talked a bit about the situation in his homeland. “At the end of the day everybody knows what will happen. You can ask any taxi-driver or soldier on the Israeli side, you can ask anyone on the Palestinian side, and they will tell you what will happen at the end of the day. At the end of the day everybody knows that the Palestinians will have their own country. That the Jewish settlements will have to be pulled back. At the end of the day, and it may take a long time or a short time, there will be two countries — Israel and Palestine. And I am willing to predict that in fifty years there will be an Israeli embassy in Palestine and a Palestinian embassy in Israel. And both these embassies will be in Jerusalem, less than five miles from each other.”
Another telling remark came during the question session when Oz was asked how he reacted to some Israelis complaining that the state of Israel was not “Jewish” enough. “But I don’t want the state of Israel to be Jewish! I don’t want any state to be ‘Jewish’ or ‘Islamic’ or ‘Christian’. A state is just a vehicle, and it can take you to a good place or to a very bad place.You can have a Jewish culture within a country, but for a state I want something that is democratic and secular.”
Holidaying in Cyprus next to the almost painfully beautiful blue sea, spending days among olive and carob trees, we had come to find out a little bit more about the recent history of Cyprus, and the Turkish take-over of the northern half of the island in 1974.
One day, sitting at a beach, I said to someone that I was a documentary film-maker and she told me of a documentary screening scheduled the next day in the abandoned Turkish Cypriot village of Pella Thusa.
We made it to Pella Thusa by that evening and watched the sun go down over the meandering coastline. The screening was in open air, a sheet of cloth for a screen and a sixteen millimetre projector ready with the reels. As the near-full moon rose to drape the landscape in a different light the grainy black and white film flickered on. A kind local teacher translated for us. The film was about a Greek Cypriot who had been made refugee from the Turkish side in 1977. The film followed him and his family as they arrived with their few belongings to Pella Thusa and tried to eke out a living in a village that had been abandoned by Turkish Cypriots forced to move to the other side.
In terms of form or style the film itself was far from remarkable. But it had feeling. The film-makers had kept going back to the family for over three years, and just that itself made it a very moving document. At one point the main character, the father, pointed to some gnarled olive trees and said, “I know these trees belong to some other man, but I try and look after them as if they were my own. This land is very beautiful, but I miss my own olive trees. I hope someone is looking after them.” I am not much given to sentiment, but at that moment I thought of mango trees and banyan trees and I felt a lump rising in my throat.
What was interesting about listening to the man was that year after year he never gave up hope of one day being able to return. And the situation in Cyprus is such that, while it may be too late for the man himself — now apparently quite old and infirm — for the rest of his family that day might not be far off. Given that Cyprus may soon join the EU, and that Greece and Turkey may mend their relationship further, a soft border and a repatriation of people after thirty years is not unimaginable. In the villages around Polis and Pafos locals and NGOs have begun to mend houses in abandoned Turkish Cypriot villages, with the idea that they may soon welcome back their original owners.
The idea that they could one day go back was not something the sub-continent’s refugees ever entertained — 1947 and 1971 were, each in their own way, always done deals, pakka and final and tragic. The image of, first two, and then three states carrying their people away in different directions, or on a collision course, is an inescapable one. Somewhere, I want to be able to say that at the end of the day we all know that the Kashmir valley cannot be held by force; that, at the end of the day, when (and not if) India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and, yes, democratic and secular Eelam and Kashmir arrive at the inevitable softening of borders, of the unavoidable economic federation, the perceived “loss” of the Valley will diminish into insignificance, into irrelevance, melt away into the mind-boggling gain of peace and health for the entire people of this region. I want to be able to predict that Jerusalem in fifty years’ time may not need fourteen different embassies from the subcontinent but perhaps only two — one for the state of Israel and one for the Republic of Palestine. I want to be able to say that every ordinary person in the street knows this and will tell you so. I can say that “many of us know this”, but I can’t say “everybody”. Not yet.