Many of you may not know this, but at exactly 4 a.m. EST yesterday, the entire Indian subcontinent essentially shut down. Schoolchildren were given half days, people concocted all sorts of excuses to get out of work, and the teeming streets of Karachi and Mumbai grew eerily peaceful. The reason: a cricket match. But this wasn’t just any match. This was the semifinal of the ICC Cricket World Cup, and the sides contesting it were the two largest nations and fiercest rivals in South Asia: India and Pakistan.
Far, far away, in New Haven, Conn., a group of 70 or so South Asians also joined in on the action, pulling all-nighters and trekking over to Silliflicks to support their respective teams. The Indians wore blue. The Pakistanis wore green. Each side had plenty of flags, insults and obnoxious chants to throw around. After all, this was the match of a lifetime, and neither side could bear to lose. The bragging rights were just too precious.
When people hear about India and Pakistan playing a cricket match, they immediately assume that it will be fraught with acrimony and tension. Tension, yes. But acrimony? Far from it. It would be foolish of me to say that the two nations’ complicated political history has played no part in the evolution of their cricketing rivalry. However, with the rivalry firmly in place, for the most of us it has become just that: Two cricketing teams took the biggest stage of them all with the hopes of some 1.3 billion people resting on their shoulders. Simple enough, right?
This is not to say, of course, that Indian and Pakistani Yalies held each other’s hands and sang “It’s a Small World” together as the match progressed. The game (all eight hours of it) was full of passionate screams, abundant cursing and plenty of jeering. The Indians, who ended up winning the match, are also entitled to — and I’m sure will fully exercise — their bragging rights. But the underlying reason for this craziness was not (at least in our case) as political as some would assume. It was just a passion for the game, a love for one’s country, and the fact that when it’s India-Pakistan, it doesn’t matter whether you know the rules or have been following the game — you just show up and act crazy.
I was trying to come up with analogous rivalries in sports to press this point further. Then I realized that that would just demean the import of this particular contest. In both India and Pakistan, cricket is a religion: plain and simple. The fact that two out of three Facebook status updates on my minifeed were related to the match says something. The fact that the match was watched by a projected 1 billion viewers across the world says even more. Even the heads of government of both countries — and many transnational Bollywood stars — showed up in full force.
It was in the midst of this electrifying atmosphere that we Yalies sat down to watch the contest. And while insanity ensued, there was nothing derogatory or even political in the way we comported ourselves. This was a special occasion. Living in Yale’s collegiate community gave us the unique opportunity of sharing these unforgettable memories together in a way that perhaps won’t ever be possible in the future. At the same time, we were reminded of what it’s like to be back home.
The next day, we were all sleep deprived, and trying to piece our thoughts together. Yet, despite their tiredness, the Indians took the Pakistanis out for dinner: a noble and sweet gesture. So I leave you with this: The game was manic, it was India-Pakistan and it was cricket. Not a matter of life and death, no, but close enough.
Faizaan Kisat is a junior in Branford College.