Commonwealth Games Blogs
'Friendly' rivalry during India/Pakistan match
DELHI, INDIA - In the floodlights of central Delhi's Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Sunday, the air was thick with nationalism (and grasshoppers).
Among the crowd were little old ladies with their faces painted and young boys zipping around with orange, white and green Indian flags.
The national hockey team broke out in an early lead off a penalty corner. And with every goal (and there were many), the fan fervor only seemed to grow.
"India jeete ga," the fans hollered in rounds. "Go India!"
It's interesting because although hockey happens to be India's national sport, and won the country a total of eight Olympic gold medals, the team hasn't placed in the Olympics since the 1980s. Accordingly, public interest has waned in recent years, as all eyes and ears turned to cricket.
But on Sunday night, you wouldn't have known the fans ever left. The stadium was packed with well over 15,000 supporters for a landmark game against India's neighbour, Pakistan.
What drew in the crowds wasn't necessarily because Pakistan was expected to be a major medal challenger. India easily won 7-4. The main attraction was because of the longstanding rivalry between the two nations, which digs deep into the countries' shared history of Partition.
"It's always good to win," the guy squashed beside me on the bus after the game said. "But it's even better when it's Pakistan."
As I've mentioned in a previous blog, there have been tensions between Muslims and Hindus in India for hundreds of years. But the biggest outward expression of animosity was in 1947, after imaginary lines were drawn, dividing the provinces of Punjab and Bengal (and forming Pakistan and, later, Bangladesh), after a quick retreat of the British colonials.
The lines drawn during Partition were meant to divide Muslim Pakistan from secular
Over 60 years have passed since Partition, but the event is still a major scar in Indian society. "Animosity between nations and communities is not uncommon," my great uncle Nand Khosla, explained to me today. He was in college in 1947, when the family left Lahore. "But when the animosity is accompanied by violence -generation after generation - then it becomes a disease, and that's what it is."
Taking it out on the field
Although there isn't the same level of direct fighting today, the lingering sentiments come out in other ways - through sports like hockey and cricket, and most amusingly - through a very elaborate bird fight on the only road link between the two countries.
OK, so it's not an actual bird fight, but rather a bizarre choreographed border ceremony, during which the soldiers of both Pakistan and India wear crested hats. Then the officers - chests puffed - kick, stomp, gesture, holler and goose-step for around 45 minutes before opening and then re-slamming the border gate.