February 22, 2020
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Bridging Ideologies

Bridging Ideologies
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MY first cricket tour was to Pakistan in the season of 1982-83. On a cold, wintry December morning, I reached Attari station, having trav-elled overnight by train from Amritsar, and then crossed the Wagah border on foot, one overused suitcase and a portable manual typewriter as cumbersome accompaniments across the furlong distance which otherwise separates the two nations by many hundreds of ideological miles. Getting through the Indian immigration and customs formalities was a breeze, but there was a squall at the Pakistani end of operations. A burly, thick-necked man, who appeared to ooze out of his uniform obscenely at various places, simply refused to believe that I had no more devious reason to get into Pakistan than cover cricket. "Yeh sab bakwas hai," he said of my organisation's letter which stated that the purpose of this trip was indeed cricket. He even rebuked his embassy's endorsement in my passport. "Kisi ko bhi visa de dete hain, yeh Dilliwale," he barked. My heart sank.

Relief came from unexpected quarters. Mr Burly's nastiness had caused enough commotion to merit the attention of his boss standing yonder. Boss was larger than Burly, and wore an expression that would have daunted even an angered Goliath. With three gigantic steps he strode up to the counter where the face-offbetween his lackey and a tired and nervous young journalist was developing into a miserably one-sided contest. "What's the problem?" he boomed. But Boss defied the stereotype. He scrutinised my credentials again, nodded his approval, patted me on the back, and even apologised for his underling's unseemly behav-iour. "Aap to hamare mehman hain," he said while endorsing the passport with an entry permit. We shook hands on this, and Boss then asked if I was carrying paan or sarees. "Only some news-magazines," I replied and pulled out a film glossy. "You cannot take this in," he said. "We don't want Indian propaganda to influence us. I have to read it to see if there is anything objectionable. In any case, Amitabh is my favourite hero," Boss declared smilingly, pointing at the cover, and moved on.

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