By Osman Samiuddi
Of the many things I remember about the 1992 World Cup final, one is the flags that Pakistani fans waved in the MCG crowd. There was the green star and crescent obviously but almost as prominent were the big, broad red, green and white ones of the MQM, a leading, still-young political party in Pakistan, and Karachi in particular, a party supported mainly by Muhajirs: those who had moved to Pakistan on partition.
Over the years the flag has been seen at various Pakistan games, home and abroad and I don’t recall seeing anything like it anywhere else: nationalism in sporting contests I can understand but ethnicity? Perhaps in South America at football games, where fans are an equally interesting sociological study but that’s only a guess.
I’ve always wanted to meet the men who waved those flags and in South Africa I may have my chance. The flags were out at yesterday’s India-Pakistan game in Centurion, though completely overshadowed by those of India and Pakistan. I went down to one of the grass banks just as Suresh Raina was pretending we were all at the IPL
It was festive, in that kind of all-things-go-way of melas. Chants were being traded between sets of supporters, none of them very witty or imaginative, but energetic all. Bollywood songs, classic and new, were being played between overs and boundaries, including that come-hither ditty of love, Asha Bhonsle’s ‘Chura liya’. They also played the oft-overlooked bawdy, big-hall, sing-along ‘Jumma chumma de de’ and having registered the bizarreness of that tune at a cricket stadium, I came to the swift conclusion that it was in fact perfect for such things.
I saw the men with the flags at the very front but decided against going, partly intimidated (what to ask them and more importantly how to ask it), partly because it wasn’t the best place for conversation and partly because there were just too many people between me and them. So I made small talk with some Pakistan fans who were being given unnecessary tension by Raina.
On leaving I bumped into a teenager with the red, green and white and asked him, in a rush, why he had that and not a Pakistan flag. I think he thought I was accusing him and so he said both flags were one and the same thing and that his friend also had a Pakistan flag; they are and they aren’t also. This will have to be pursued.
The game ended with a full-scale pitch invasion, which hasn’t been seen for a few years and was for a while the preserve of Asian fans. Of course it is a serious security concern and all, but it was also, in a selfish way, a bracing spectacle because it is such a liberating, momentous burst of joy: watching India and Pakistan slug it out for seven hours is tense business and release is inevitable.