For the last few weeks, the weather in Kashmir has been a bit irritating. It rains every late afternoon after a sunny and hot morning. June 18th was no different. The sun started strong but by mid-day, lost its intensity. Clouds gathered overhead and rain was not far behind.
We left the mosque after zuhr prayers and sat outside a shop, giving our ‘analysis’ of what was about to come — the final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 — between Pakistan and India, a match that brings both excitement and fear to Kashmir and Kashmiris in India.
As we discussed the possible outcomes, Nab Kak, the most senior ‘analyst’ of the locality, joined us. He is in his late 70’s, prays on a chair, and uses a walking stick. Half of his teeth are missing and the other half have eroded and are nearing decay.
Throughout his life, he has watched cricket only because of Pakistan. He remembers the famous Miandad six, and the World Cup win in 1992. Name any important moment in the history of Pakistan cricket, and he is there to tell you a story.
For generations, maybe even cutting across ideological lines, people in Kashmir have cheered for Pakistan as their panen (own) team.
On Sunday, Nab Kak looked nervous. “Be wary of Kohli”, he said, adding, “but have faith in Amir”. The boys at the shop told him Pakistan is going to win. The sale of firecrackers had already started.
Even before the tournament started, it was the Kashmiris who held hope for Pakistan’s victory. Only a people who brave bullets with stones in hand, can vouch for Pakistan to win against the likes of South Africa, England, and India. Hoping that we will prevail against the odds is in our blood. The rankings don’t matter.
As we left the shop, all of us agreed that the toss is important. So we hoped for Sarfraz to win the toss, but he lost the call. It was a disappointing start to the match.
A self-imposed curfew of sorts was established. There was no movement on the roads. Men, women, and children, were all glued to their TV sets.
My 14-year-old cousin, a crazy Pakistan fan, sat beside me, taunting her younger brother who supports India because they have MS Dhoni on their side. She thinks it is unnatural for a Kashmiri to support the Indian team.
My grandfather arrived to give us more support. He predicted a 100 by one of Pakistan’s openers.
When Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman made their way in, I began to criticise Azhar, even before he faced a delivery. I have always found him an odd man in the Pakistan ODI squad.
But then, he is a Pakistani cricketer. He had to prove his critics wrong (although I still believe he has no place in the ODI squad).
Fakhar Zaman looked sloppy at the start. The Indian bowlers were playing according to plan. But soon the plan fell apart. Fakhar went on to score a 100.
My father had an appointment with a neurologist. I didn’t want to leave. Close to 12 overs were still to be bowled and Pakistan had yet to cross the 300 mark.
Finally, we left. On the Baramulla-Kupwara highway, traffic was next to nothing. The market was deserted too.
When we were done, the Indian batsmen were already out for the chase. As I collected the medicine from the only chemist store open at that time, I heard a loud bang. “A firecracker,” somebody in the shop said.
I picked up my phone to check the score, to find Rohit Sharma making his way back to the pavilion. Amir had struck in the first over. There was jubilation all around. More firecrackers followed.
By the time we reached home, Kohli had been dropped by Azhar Ali and dismissed by Amir in the following ball. His spell seemed like poetry in motion.
With Shikhar Dhawan back in the hut, people were out on the streets. They knew it was all over for India.
Slogans followed firecrackers. Firecrackers followed slogans. There was no chasing the total now. The Pakistan pace attack bulldozed the Indian top order. They made the Indian batting look ridiculously incompetent.
In Kashmir, it was Eid a week before Eid.
Nothing could have been better for the battered and bruised people here than a humiliating defeat of India at the hands of Pakistan. A momentary celebration amid the perpetual state of mourning was probably needed to stay sane — or insane, perhaps.
The revelry on the streets was never seen before in these parts.
Shortly, the retribution followed.
Reports poured in from various places that the Indian army had beaten up people. As expected, there were clashes between stone-pelters and Indian forces in Srinagar.
Kashmiris have always had to pay a heavy price for any cause of celebration. However, this time there was no loss of life reported. For a day, there was no mourning.
The celebrations continue. For now.
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