The ageing Khan turns partisan



Rohit Mahajan

Never before has Pakistan been so pleased at India’s success in cricket than during this January. The Indian team’s outrageous performance in Australia seems to have gladdened the hearts of fans of cricket across the border, if vlogs and articles by cricketers and writers, and comments by fans on social media, are any indication.

India’s 2004 tour of Pakistan is undoubtedly the peak of brotherliness among fans of the two countries; however, then the hospitable spirit of the Pakistanis, generous and eager to please, played a part in the fans cheering India even as their own team lost. But in India’s wins in Melbourne and Brisbane, and the draw in Sydney, over the last five weeks, Pakistani fans had no personal stake; what they had was love for cricket, support for the underdog and affinity for India — possibly mixed with some dislike for the Australian team. Pakistan’s cricketers, writers and fans showered praise for Ajinkya Rahane and his men, and it clearly came from the heart.

Two years ago, when India won a series in Australia for the first time, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated Virat Kohli and his team. This time, even though the win was more thrilling and valuable, Imran said nothing — two years ago, he was yet to complete a year in office and was leading a people who placed great hopes in him; now there’s disaffection in the country, his words about India are sharp, and there are more important things on his mind than cricket.

As Sanjay Manjrekar narrates in his book, when it came to cricket, Imran was no partisan. About an incident of Imran showing concern over his failure and giving him advice on his batting, Manjrekar writes: “I was just floored that my hero liked my batting enough to follow that tour and be disappointed with my failures. This was a Pakistani following the progress of an Indian and wanting him to do well.” Imran then turned to Maninder Singh and expressed concern over his changed action and reduced effectiveness. Clearly, once he walked off the field, Imran did not see borders among cricketers.

19 wins out of 24

Imran didn’t congratulate Rahane, but two days ago, he did boast about his captaincy record against India. “I must have captained in 24 One-day matches against India,” Imran said. “We won 19! We were always better than them. It was a small board (Pakistan Cricket Board), but as long as the country had confidence, we used to excel in every field!” Amazingly enough, in the middle of a speech on Pakistan’s current situation, Imran could summon from his memory the numbers signifying his success against India. This showed how competitive he was against India, and how much that success still matters to him.

Two years ago, Imran hailed India’s win in Australia as “the first ever win by a subcontinent team in a Test series in Australia”. Clearly, he does have a sense of belonging to the Indian subcontinent — his mother was born in Jalandhar and moved across the new border after Pakistan was created.

Imran, though he identifies himself as a Pashtun or Pathan, was truly a cricketer sans borders — a Pathan who can’t speak Pashto or Hindko, dated actresses and socialites from India and the West, married a British woman of Jewish heritage with whom he has two sons in England.

In a TV interview a few years ago, Imran said he was in a good position to give advice on “our” morals to young people. “A man like me, who has seen the western culture very closely… is more qualified to tell young people what they should guard against… they should not copy another culture like monkeys,” Imran said.

Perhaps the young Imran was following the imperatives of young hormones; the older Imran is following the imperatives of older hormones.

Being unmoored from social and cultural ties can be very emancipating — Imran was a free bird in his youth; yet, being unmoored can also be unsettling, more so as you age. Imran seems to be experiencing that — in his recent speech, Imran also railed against “Indian culture”. In the past, he has waxed eloquent about “our culture” when talking about Turkish TV show Ertugrul; last year, in a press conference with Turkish President Erdogan, he happily said that “the Turks ruled Hindustan for 600 years”. Having forgotten Pashto, speaking Urdu and not Punjabi, and showing aversion for “Indian culture”, Imran seems to have voted for Turk/Mughal imperialism over British imperialism.

But it’s likely that, as a cricketer from the subcontinent, Imran would be gladdened by a team from the region doing well in Australia.



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