The game is a source of great joy to our nation
There are times when imagination fails you. As I sit in my office writing this piece on Thursday evening, I cannot imagine the roar that (assuming all goes well) will go up in the Gaddafi stadium on Friday evening. A loved one is coming home. Lahore’s streets are announcing it. People are whispering about it. They break into smiles just talking about -- for no good reason. Oh, but there is good reason! Everyone wants to see her as she prepares to dazzle those blessed enough to be there. Friday, the 22nd of May, is no ordinary day. No ordinary night. Lahore will greet the undisputed queen of its heart: the awe-inspiringly beautiful game we call cricket.
As teams take to the field on Friday, Lahore will stand up on its feet to greet the return of its greatest love. Just think of the symbolism in that gesture. Rising up out of your chair as teams walk in -- we do that for elders, our Honourable Justices and, yes, cricket.
Cricket is not just a sport for Lahore and Pakistan: it is a goddess that competes for authority with every conceivable power in this country -- earthly or otherwise. It moves people to tears, gives them moments of uncontrollable joy and it makes friends out of strangers with "score kya hua hai?"
If cricket is the reason, you can swear in celebration or despair in any public place -- no one will even raise an eyebrow. It is that sacred. How can you be expected to control your emotions? Cricket hai. It makes the religious ones lay out their prayer mats and often even makes the atheists look up to the sky. If you say you are not interested in it, the looks you get are more judgemental than the ones given by the religious zealots to the faithless. As a friend recently observed, "People in Pakistan pity those who do not understand this game. It’s like this: if you do not love cricket, you are incapable of loving anyone. You do not understand beauty even when you see it."
And maybe you do not even need eyes to appreciate its beauty: even the blind play it.
When a loved one is returning home, the anticipation when they turn the last corner to emerge in view is half the joy. Aptly enough, as is the custom in our culture with all celebrations of love, there will be music and dancing. Brighter than any of those enormously powerful bulbs in the floodlit stadium will be the smiles of the people of a city who nearly gave up hope of seeing their love again. But, like all great love stories, this one has made room for vasl -- at least one more time.
As much as is made of the notion of first love, we often do outgrow our pehli muhabbat. We outgrow the love, sometimes even the idea of it, the optimism, lack of cynicism etc. Somehow that has just not happened with cricket -- millions of people will identify this beautiful game as their first love. And they will still defy a lot of other love-based obligations to pay homage to this great game. They will despair of it but never move past it. And why should they?
It has given us so much to fall in love with: for millions of boys and girls in this country, cricket is the first reason they start dreaming -- of love, of fame, of establishing yourself as a breathtaking talent.
So many of us have first memories linked to this game. First memories of the goosebumps that can only be caused by loud applause, of the joy of winning, the heart-break of losing, of learning the competitive streak, of taking pride in a team and being a part of it. This permeates neighbourhoods, provinces and an entire federation. This game made us dreamers in our lawns and in our neighborhood streets. It entitles little children to walk with swagger in the neighbourhood if they are good at it. It makes heroes and heart-breakers out of millions of people every day on the streets of Pakistan. If the ones with faith and the agnostics have one common ritual of worship in this country, it is cricket.
Also read: Return of cricket
No one can forget the despair that ensued after the horrific attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. After that attack, there were none of the apologetic stances usually taken after terrorist attacks in this country. There was no doubt: something sacred had been hit. No sect, no political division allowed for it. Millions knew instantly that cricket was leaving Pakistan on that plane along with the Sri Lankan team.
Before 2009, cricket was the greatest source of collectively accessible and democratic happiness in this country. In fact, this is where the English language fails. Happiness does not even begin to describe the emotion that khushi does. Our collective khushi was taken away. And for a number of years, watching our own team play has become a pleasure available only to those affluent enough to travel to foreign lands. But the 22nd of May, 2015 might change that. Our khushi, our pehli muhabbat is coming back home.
We have grown up loving her, we have paused during our busiest days to take in a glimpse of her, we have done this game the greatest service any object of affection can hope for: we have shared that love with our future generations. We have gathered and continue to gather in large groups to celebrate it.
None of us know how long this happiness will last. But may it last forever and a day. We have missed her and finally she is turning the corner. Regardless of faith, or lack thereof, Lahore and Pakistan will turn into a land of devotees for the next few days. The Gaddafi is our Mecca. The sound of wood on leather has perhaps never sounded sweeter. And never has a long separation had a more uplifting coming together.
And even as imagination fails me, I have feeling that the roar in Lahore will be heard all the way to Zimbabwe -- conveying our gratitude, our collective love. Our khushi. Our pehli muhabbat.