FORMER Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi’s appeal for donations for his charity organisation to aid people during the deadly scourge of Covid-19 has made a mountain out of a molehill in India. While Afridi’s call for support was amplified by leading cricketers, what caused an outcry was former Indian cricketers players, the swashbuckling Yuvraj Singh and the wily Harbhajan Singh, stepping up to the crease.
While Harbhajan appealed to people to contribute to the Shahid Afridi Foundation in a video message, Yuvraj similarly asked for funds for Afridi in testing times when people need to look out for one another.
However, this great gesture came at a heavy price for both sportsmen in India as they were roundly slammed on social media for daring to express support for Afridi’s charity foundation.
Twitter insults ranged from demanding whether the two had lost their senses to “no one will forgive you for caring for traitors and forgetting your own motherland” to “ghaddar sardar” (traitor) directed at Harbhajan Singh.
Soon Yuvraj was reduced to sharing a picture of the Indian team celebrating the 2011 World Cup triumph which he captioned: “Words will never be able to describe what a moment for every Indian it was, this is what we live for! Jai Hind.”
Harbhajan followed suit by sharing another picture from the 2011 World Cup win titled, “what a great day it was for whole India. Proud moment.”
Alas, although it was sad to see sports fall prey to nationalism and self righteousness, the trolling continued unabated with comments like “Go and do some charity and humanity in Pakistan. You have lost our respect!” and “You have betrayed every Indian!”
With many badgering the beleaguered cricketers whether they were Indian or Pakistani, one was reminded of Abdul Sattar Edhi’s response when people complained and asked why he picked up Christians and Hindus in his ambulances: He replied: “because the ambulance is more Muslim than you”.
In the midst of this brouhaha, Yuvraj was exasperated enough to post a message: “I don’t understand how a simple message of support to help the most vulnerable gets blown out of all proportion. All I tried to achieve through that message was to help people in our respective countries by providing healthcare. My intention was not to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m an Indian and will always bleed blue and will always stand for humanity. Jai hind.”
But the tirade continued. Keep in mind that Yuvraj has also raised money to fight coronavirus through his ‘YouWeCan’ foundation to which Afridi has extended his support. But that was conveniently forgotten by his detractors.
Pakistan and India may not have played a bilateral cricket series since 2012-13 due to political tensions but there is great camaraderie between the players of both countries in the true spirit of sportsmanship. While Afridi has been known on occasion to make indiscreet comments about India, it is ironical that when he was scouting for a publisher for his memoir Game Changer, he had to collaborate with Harper Collins India and it turned out to be a profitable partnership.
While battling a pandemic that does not distinguish between borders which has led to an international human trauma, it is better to let bygones be bygones. One needs to summon up all the reserves “not to fight against an army, nor against another nation, but the enemy which is there, invisible, elusive and advancing” as France’s President Emmanuel Macron put it.
Incidentally, Afridi did not let Harbhajan and Yuvraj down during their ordeal calling them “ambassadors for love and peace and humanity beyond borders. Both Yuvi and Bhaaji are huge pillars of support. This bond we have shows love and peace which transgresses borders when it comes to humanity.”
According to anthropologist Margaret Mead, “helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts”.
It is said that epidemics reveal the hidden truths about the societies they impact. Perhaps the outraged Indian cricket fans can dwell on Pope Francis’ words at a solitary prayer service in St Peter’s Square of the Vatican. He said this crisis has put everyone in the same boat, all of us fragile and disorientated, but we all need to row together, each one of us in need of comforting the other.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2020