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Finding Neverland Blog Archive

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Dream of Pakistan's Cap (Part 7)

Ahmedis in Pakistan


Zubair wants to leave too, but his family doesn't have the money. He's hoping to convince his father to at least send his brother away. Zubair started playing cricket the year Mohammad Amir got banned. Amir is set to return to the Pakistan side a few days after this match and Zubair plans to watch. "Once he comes and plays, everyone will realise that he is a good bowler. There is no other bowler like him. He is a child who made a mistake."

Zubair stopped studying after second grade. He says he was far more interested in cricket. He only speaks in Punjabi, though a word or two of Urdu occasionally squeezes itself into conversation. He seems far too young to be burdened with the life he leads. "My brother works in the graveyard and I work at a kitchen-utensils shop in the market. I earn Rs 3000 [about $29] a month. I work two and a half hours in the morning, and another two hours in the evening."

It is a bright, clear day and it feels like June as the sun beats down on the ground; remarkable for early January in Punjab. Layers are being peeled off, and the match continues.

Every so often, someone yells out for the score. Both teams have their own scorers, and after every four overs, someone runs to the magnetic scoreboard to change the tiles. The teams tally their scores; if there is only a few runs' difference, the visiting team's score comes up trumps. Matches are usually of 30 to 35 overs an innings; on Fridays the Rabwah team needs to wrap up matches before the telecast of the weekly sermon from London by the head of the community.

When the home team bats, the rest of the players break off into little circles for practice. There's a slightly disconnected sense to the proceedings - or perhaps a paratha-induced stupor - but the runs keep racking up effortlessly. Batting first, Fazl-e-Umar end with over 250 and go on to win the match. But Haye's training, the ground's upkeep, and the discussions over technique all seem ultimately futile. The club's future seems limited.

Fazl-e-Umar comes under the administrative purview of the Jhang District (which is part of the Faisalabad Region). Haye describes Jhang's cricket officials as helpful, though Jhang is the home of the sectarian and militant Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat.

Not everyone is helpful. The city of Chiniot has long been a hub of anti-Ahmadi sentiment and organises an annual anti-Ahmadi conference each year to mark the legal excommunication of Ahmadis from Islam.

Haye alleges that Chiniot's sports officials exclude Rabwah's teams or cricketers from tournaments they host. "This is cemented in their heads," he says. "They're sitting there with these long beards, and they've just decided that they're not going to have us play."


Sohaib Ali, secretary of Jhang's cricket association, told me that they have picked players from Fazl-e-Umar in the past, for U-19 tournaments and senior ones. "When boys are playing, they don't care who is from what religion," he said. "There has never been an incident where this has come up." He also corrected me and said the town's name was Chenab Nagar.

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