“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
– W. B. Yeats
I was a feisty eleven-year-old rebel in that winter afternoon. The winter sun shone down temptingly in the garden and the terrace. But all had given the afternoon siesta a miss. So had I. We were all glued to the TV. Doordarshan. A test match was in progress. Indian batsmen were at the crease. A few more runs needed to defeat the archrivals- Pakistan. Sachin was in excellent form.
Prayers were being whispered. Someone swore as another wicket fell. The theatrical voice of the Hindi commentators rang across the room and beyond. In the street outside. Only puppies frolicked in the sun out there, oblivious of the drama unfolding in the drawing rooms.
I was huddled in a corner of the sofa. My mother had just called me a ‘traitor’. Deshodrohi. The word stung me. I had a hundred questions, but I preferred to remain quiet. Poker-faced. My intent eyes were fixed on the screen. A day ago, the flamboyant Shahid Afridi, who had stolen my 11-year-old heart, had scored a blitzkrieg century. I was praying to all the gods whose names I knew among our thirty-three crore-strong pantheon. For Saqlain Mushtaq. For the victory of Pakistan.
To everyone’s dismay, the gods chose to answer my prayers. Sachin fell after scoring a brilliant 136, to Saqlain’s off-spin. India needed only 17 to win. But the tail-enders couldn’t pull it through. Pakistan won by 12 runs.
Sighs of disappointment hovered in the air. Only I pranced around in joy as the Pakistani team celebrated the win. I refused to turn off the television as a smiling Wasim Akram congratulated his boys. My mother repeated the word again. Deshodrohi. Traitor.
I hadn’t known what it meant then. Nor the differences. What made them ‘them’ and what made us ‘us’.
A few months later, before I turned twelve, there was Kargil. Images of war flashed on the same screen during news hour.
It has been almost 15 years since that winter. I am much wiser today. Now, I know.
Or do I?
I remain indifferent to outcomes of cricket matches between the two nations.
Conditioned by History, I have lost my innocence.