Though words can never do justice to describing what happened at the PSL Final in Lahore on Sunday, trying to convey what happened and how it felt is most important. I was at the match and wanted to share every delightful moment and every dreamy detail real time with the world, but my phone service stopped working.
Friends, families, and Captain of Islamabad United travelled together by coach to Qaddafi Stadium, carefree, laughing, and joking, and looking forward to watching and supporting Zalmi and Gladiators who had made it to the final. Captain Misbah rocked the coachful with pithy comments on the sights and sounds along the way, including on being stopped for ten minutes en-route to make way for the winning teams’ passage.
We were inside the stadium by 5.30 pm and the place was almost packed by that time. The experience inside the stadium was hours and hours of euphoric patriotism and ecstasy at display, my own eyes teary at times. The charged crowd couldn’t get enough of screaming themselves hoarse with slogans of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, or ‘Zalmi Zalmi’ or ‘Gladiators’, or ‘Lahore Lahore aye (Lahore is Lahore)’. One man sitting behind me would hilariously shout ‘Jehlum Jhelum hai’, whenever the Master of Ceremonies led the roaring crowd to shout ‘Lahore Lahore hai’. His wit and city-ism was only appreciated by those sitting around him, no matter which city they were from. The clapping, dancing, dhol, luddi, bhangra, and flag waving went on till the end of the match, for nearly six hours.
Almost all songs played had a strong patriotic theme, except Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar of course, and the crowd of about 30,000 was besides itself, singing, clapping and dancing along rapturously to the beats of ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ and ‘Seeti bajay gi’. The frenzy at ‘Phir seeti bajay gi, stage sajay ga, aur tali bajay gi, aur khel jamay ga (again the whistle will be blown, the stage will be set, clapping will resound, and game will be on) was nothing less than enchanting.
The inclusion of Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar as a performance with accompanying dhamal may or may not have been included for symbolic message value. But I would like to believe it was deliberately included to send a strong signal to haters of tolerance who killed more than a hundred people at Sehwan Shahbaz Sharif Shrine in Sindh only weeks ago. Nor did the inclusion of the Overload drumming band, with their drums and dhamal, seem a coincidence to me. And what a gratifying and heart warming sight it was to see women dancing with men as part of the formal ceremony – exactly the opposite of the obscurantist ideology that seized and dogs Pakistan to this day.
It was such a pleasing crowd overall (except that one jarring note that came from the enclosure to the left of us – the ‘Go-Nawaz-Go business during the PCB chairman’s speech): happy, laughing, and good-naturedly supporting and cheering both teams. But Zalmi supporters out-numbered the others, evidenced by the yellow T-shirts cheerfully smattering every stand, making the crowd look bright and colourful.
Islamabad United having lost out, I had just gone to support cricket in Pakistan, and thought I’d cheer whoever won. But though I was happy for Zalmi, I felt real pain for Quetta. They were done in by their foreign players’ rude departure, without so much as a by-your-leave. The foreign players’ absence was the reason the end of the match wasn’t a nail biting electric affair. Still, I pacified my heart, this was better than caving in. It was better than bowing down. To me this was so much more about defiance; about showing the will to make things happen for Pakistan; about rain-making; about demonstrating Pakistan can safely execute planned events.
My thoughts from before leaving for the match kept getting vindicated, as the match proceeded. There was no fear. I tried to tweet some photos from the start of the ceremony together with my thoughts and feelings, but of course couldn’t.
No, it didn’t mean the end of terrorism. That’s a long war and must be continued. But the PSL Final meant we had begun to overcome the fear; to dare to live and love again. Despite the terrorism. This was not just cricket, this was life. No one was going to shut down Pakistan. PCB and government took the lead, people followed. Or did the government tap into the people’s sentiment and deliver? I don’t know. But we all came together and made music.
Last but not least, the foreigners who came cannot be thanked enough: Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels, Chris Jordan and Sawid Malan for Zalmi; Rayan Emdit, Inam ul Haque, Sean Ervine and Morne Van Vyk for Quetta; and of course Sir Viv Richards and Dean Jones. They were completely confident and cheerful, and also represent quite a slap in the face of those who portray an image of Pakistan much worse than reality.
I also felt very proud of Islamabad United. Prof Deano flew down, so did Wasim Akram and Misbah. They didn’t have to, but they did, to support PSL and cricket in Pakistan. Good people came together to celebrate life and liberty in Pakistan. And how can no mention of the security forces be made, who put their lives on the line to give us the breathtaking chance at hope? They kept us safe, at the risk of their own lives. Imagine. The public gave a standing ovation to Punjab Police in at least one enclosure when a posse walked past doing their duty. The Pakistan Army set the tone at the outset with their colourful precision parachute landings in the stadium, telling us they were watching over us.
Yes, we made music together, all of us. Love and passion conquered fear. We demonstrated a new collective will not to cave in, not to bow down, but to defy, live and celebrate. Isn’t that the essence of life?
I don’t for a moment deny the costs, as I mentioned to a friend, but I consider every penny worth the cost for Pakistan to start overcoming the fear and daring to live again.