The bat-ball diplomacy [ Lahore cricket match ]
Raja Ganzfar Ali was Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India in 1955-56. He was a keen sportsman with a liberal outlook. A cricket enthusiast, he thought of a plan to improve the relations between the two countries through this sport. Though at first there was some resistance, both governments relaxed the visa restrictions during the days of the match.
A number of people from India went to Lahore for the match. The only document required to enter Pakistan through Wagah border was identity proof attested by a local magistrate.
I was a member of the Amritsar Bar Association then, and a group of lawyers got the documents attested from the City Magistrate. We were set to leave for Lahore. Since the visa restrictions had been eased, there was great enthusiasm among the people to visit Pakistan after the Partition.
On entering Pakistan, we could sense bonhomie. Right from Wagah to Lahore, people showered us with love and there was no sign of any bitterness. A number of visitors smuggled into Pakistan articles like betel leaves, condiments, cotton clothes, foreign liquor and some items of daily use, which were either not available or quite costly there. I got a good price for a handful of ilaichi I carried along.
We roamed freely in the streets of Lahore, as if we were in an Indian city. The nostalgia of common heritage was visible on the faces of visitors, as also the hosts. It was a delight to visit the famous Anarkali Bazaar, Punjab University and University Law College. Shalmi Darwaja revived the memories of the days spent in Lahore.
We noticed some burqa-clad women showing their children the Sikh members of our group. It was probably for the first time that a large number of Sikhs had come visiting.
On the first day of the match, many visitors thronged brothels at Hira Mandi, however, the following day, the Punjab government put a ban on Indians visiting that part of the city.
I stayed in Lahore for two days with a Christian friend whose house I traced with some effort. The memories of childhood days spent in Lahore lingered all through this short visit.
I was lucky to visit Gurdwara Shahid Ganj, Shahi Quila, Mool Chand Temple near Nolakha Bazaar, Gurdwara Dehra Sahib, DAV College, (now MAO College), from where Shaheed Bhagat Singh had escaped after gunning down an English Superintendent of Police and a head constable.
Cricket diplomacy can go a long way in reducing the tension between the two countries as they share a common ancestry. The cricket board of India is now headed by a young man who can take initiatives to improve the ties.
‘Punjabiat’ is writ large on the faces of people living in both Punjabs and nobody could even think that life in Pakistan is like ‘living in hell’.
-- Som Dutt Vasudeva
Scorecard -- India in Pakistan 1954/55 (3rd Test)