Batting for PakistanPurchase 'Batting for Pakistan'
4 - Mr. England meets Osama
Try getting an oversized backpack into a rickshaw. Never easy or straightforward. I was leaving Peshawar and had a bus ticket, which under the name section was written,
Compared to much of what I had become accustomed to in Afghanistan, the bus company was relatively upmarket. There was even a passenger lounge. I persuaded the reluctant desk official to let me on the waiting bus rather than wait another six hours for the next one to Faisalabad.
The bus had air con, departed virtually on time, and even had a complimentary stewardess. She was a pretty women, without headscarf, but she made some strange announcements.
"I sincerely hope you enjoy journey with us today." It was a long while since I'd heard those words. She came round telling everyone to fasten their seatbelts, also something I'd forgotten how to do. There was even a stewardess call button above my seat. What next? A duty free trolley? Certainly not in Pakistan.
Soon we were heading onto a Pakistani motorway.
"M1 Welcomes You!"
I kept expecting us to pull over into a Welcome Break service station. Instead of heading along the M1 to the likes of Milton Keynes and Doncaster, the signs pointed the way to the likes of Islamabad and Lahore. It was accompanied by another special sign sponsored by the Office of the Chief Patrol Officer.
Perhaps the Highways and Traffic Agency in the UK might consider extending similar courtesies from all the speed camera revenues they raked in.
I met someone called Osama. But he was no terrorist mastermind plotting jihad. He was a very outgoing twelve year old boy who decided to come and sit next to me. As the stewardess came round to serve Pepsi, he said to me in good English,
"Hey, you know what Pepsi stands for?"
"Pay Every Penny to Save Israel."
Osama proceeded to tell me everything I didn't need to know about why Harry Potter was so good. I started to think I was on a magical make-believe adventure of my own, before we eventually got around to discussing cricket.
"Hey, my father is policeman. You are going to watch England play Pakistan tomorrow in Faisalabad?"
"My father can get you into the VIP area of the stadium if you like."
He bombarded me with the usual barrage of routine questions. Job? Marital Status? Children? Income? Age? I almost forgot I was talking to a boy of twelve. For someone of his age, he displayed an astonishing degree of political awareness and religious insight. He offered me a plausible sounding critique of US foreign policy and we also discussed the rationale of suicide bombers.
"Be a Muslim, come on it'll be fun!" he implored.
Osama told me he was travelling with his guard. It was a reminder that Pakistan remained a fairly lawless country. The wealthy made easy targets for kidnappings and robberies.
The main role of the guard though, as far as I could see, was to look after his vast collection of sweets and fizzy drinks. He told me he was a good polo player. One day he hoped to become either a pilot or a doctor.
"Don't you want to be a policeman, like your father?" I asked.
"No, Pakistan already has too many policemen." he replied.
Who'd have thought I'd be sat next to someone in Pakistan called Osama, eagerly insisting I listen to a musical compilation he had recently recorded himself on his snazzy mobile phone?
The next song on his collection was Eminem.
"Hey, you know now we are entering into the Punjab. It is the land of wealth."
I saw some water buffalo out the window slogging through muddy brown fields. Laundry was being hung out to dry in the midday sun. The Punjab derived its name from five rivers and supported over seventy million people. Not many of them were particularly wealthy.
The television inside the bus was showing an American film. It was a pirated copy, which was interrupted every now and again by loud, cheesy adverts for turbine pumps.
I sat back to enjoy some more motorway signs.
"Never Relax Until the Job is Done!"
"Look after Trees Because They Look After You!"
"Speed Thrills But Kills!"
I soon picked up on how Allah-fearing most people in Pakistan were, but didn't quite realise that he accompanied them on motorway journeys.
"Drive With Allah!"
A whole new meaning to having an in car satellite navigation system when Allah shows you which way to go.
On reaching Faisalabad, it proved useful to have Osama's police contact to ensure the rickshaw driver to my hotel would not rip me off.
"Hey see you tomorrow at the cricket." Osama shouted as he was escorted into his waiting vehicle, his guard trailing behind overloaded with sugary sweets and drinks.
Still, the price of a rickshaw was small fry compared to the extortionate fare my hotel wanted me to fork out. The cricket was in town, it was late, and I couldn't be bothered to go on a wild goose chase for accommodation in a city I didn't know. So I paid ten times over my budget for a room.
What did I get for this? Not a lot really. No hot water, a dirty room, a prayer mat and a television which didn't work properly, except on one channel which showed Everton v West Brom in strange blue and green colours, which certainly livened the action up somewhat. The lengths I go to, to watch cricket.
Rather implausibly, there was a Lords in Faisalabad. But this Lords was a shop selling foam.
"Welcome to Our City!" read a giant sign on my way to the Iqbal Stadium the next morning.
Another large sign read,
"Welcome from the Rotary Club of Faisalabad."
Vultures were swirling high above the ground, which I wanted to get inside of to watch the first day of the second test match between England and Pakistan.
I heard a voice shouting my name out, and as I turned around, there was cheerful Osama again with his sunglasses on. He introduced me to his father, the policeman. He in turn ensured I was given secure passage through the various crowded checkpoints and cramped turnstiles. And before I could say "Free Ticket", the melee was behind me and I was inside the ground.
It was faintly embarrassing, considering the huge, winding queues of locals outside who were pushing and jostling with increasing intensity and desperation right up against the main gate. I just strolled in.
I noticed people in English football shirts and Barmy Army shirts. It can be very strange when the faraway world you have almost adapted to or accepted, suddenly collides with the world you have come from. Almost, but not quite. Other things occasionally unavoidably caught my eye like cripples scavenging piles of rotting rubbish on the city's edges, and old ladies begging for food. This was not Lords on a sunny summer's morning.
Only at a cricket match, could I sit myself down next to an Irishman, named John, on one side and a Welshman on the other, all of us supporting England, remarking how pleasant the weather was and comparing notes on the intricacies of ordering tea in our different hotels. John, in particular, was a superb person to come across on the first morning of test match, since he had recently written a guide to every single cricket test ground in the world. Somehow, I don't think Faisalabad would be one of his favourites.
The far end of the Iqbal stadium was named the Golf Course End. Exactly why this was, no one could work out. There were no golf courses in Faisalabad. There couldn't even have been any grass outside the cricket ground.
Bar a handful of other English supporting people of varied ages and sexes around us, we were heavily outnumbered by local Pakistanis. I met one other English person, who had travelled through Afghanistan en route to Pakistan. He had taken a slightly different route from my own, coming down from Uzbekistan in the north.
Another chap arrived in the middle of the afternoon. He had just finished driving all the way out from the UK. He was starting to recount some of his various experiences in Iran with visas, petrol shortages and awkward border guards, but was getting drowned out by the cheers and chanting. Everywhere else in the ground, it was a very noisy affair.
The television cameraman, from his high promontory, took great fun in orchestrating the local crowd into excited frenzies. Meanwhile, hundreds of moustached police in blue jumpers looked on. A self-proclaimed elite police unit casually walked around with some very powerful looking weapons. Rather ominously inscribed on the backs of their uniforms were the words, "NO FEAR"
However, it was to be the sturdy wooden sticks which proved to be the most effective weapons for controlling the surging crowds. When the sticks couldn't quite do the job, a good old-fashioned clip around the ears sufficed instead. And I soon realised that it was harder to get out of the ground, than it was to get into it.
All the England supporters were seated in the same stand. From behind fences on either side of this stand, Pakistani young men would regularly stare and drool. Sometimes they stared at one or two of the women amongst us, but also at the English men too, eyeing them up and down.
I surveyed some of the home-made posters and signs around me.
"BUCK UP England!" one read.
"Where Is Gower? We Miss You!" said another, which was being held upside down.
Behind us a large poster promoted the 'Simon Taufel Umpire Fan Club', presumably hoping that every time they waved it, the umpire would automatically give Pakistan a favourable decision.
Several of the England supporters were asked to sign autographs. People made up all sorts of joke names. Someone signed off as Mike Gatting. Another as Shakhoor Rana, the umpire he once infamously had a blazing row with on the same ground. Someone had written the famous Ian Botham name mispronunciation down as Iron Bottom. There were also neat signatures from other luminaries such as Tony Blair, Osama bin Laden, Kylie Minogue and Ant 'n' Dec.
A man they call Chacha (Uncle) Cricket did energetic tours of the ground, waving his Pakistani flag and instigating singing. He was always facing the crowd and hardly seemed to watch the cricket.
By lunchtime, the crowd outside the ground seemed to have swelled, rather than thinned out, even though the ground was virtually full to capacity.
There cannot be many cricket grounds, which incorporate a car hire stall under the stands. But there was one in the Iqbal stadium, the Ali Car Centre, despite the fact that no one could drive cars anywhere near the ground. There was also a school uniform shop, a property consultancy business and a hairdressers. My favourite was a dusty shop with its shutters down boasting that it was
"A SOLU ELY WORLD CLASS"
For many young boys, as I discovered on my lunchtime walk outside, the novelty of tourists or white people was too hard to resist. They swarmed all over me, pushing and pulling, prodding and poking. Some insisted on handshakes, which was fine. Some insisted on tugging various parts of my clothing, or indeed anatomy, which was not so fine.
It was with some relief that I made it back inside the ground again. As I did so, repeated boundaries from one of the Pakistani players, Shahid Afridi, were sending the crowd into raptures. Every time he swung his bat and connected, nearly every Pakistani jumped out of their seats to cheer. A cup landed on my head. One man started to take his clothes off and I thought we might see a streaker, but he changed his mind. The noise and clamour was too much for one middle aged England fan, who had to leave.
At the end of the first day Pakistan were in a very strong position, 300 runs for only 4 wickets. The English contingent had to sign more autographs before leaving. A delayed departure seemed a sensible idea to avoid the mobs outside.
However, many England fans still got mobbed outside the ground anyway, as the rows of useless policemen watched on with their sticks.
"What your name? Job? Married?" from one side.
"You like Pakistan?" from another side.
"You think Pakistan is good country?" from behind.
"Pakistan is bad country, no? We are all terrorists." another laughed.
A group of around twenty or so of these boys were hanging on my every word and movement, as they attached themselves to me. It didn't really matter what I said. There was no curbing their youthful exuberance and excitement.
Sometimes, it went too far. Another Englishman staying in a hotel close to mine in the centre of Faisalabad, reported a rather nasty couple of attempted deliveries to his privates region from wandering hands. Similarly, other wandering hands made themselves known intimately to his backside. This was not uncommon. Maybe it would have been better to get padded up, with box and helmet, just to walk to and from the ground.
It seemed to be much tougher being a spectator than a player. And that was definitely not something I ever thought I would find myself saying about going to a cricket match.
On the way out, a promotional sign in big letter said, "WE LOVE CRICKET!"
Maybe they loved cricket a bit too much here.
Faisalabad described itself as the Manchester of Pakistan. As a grimy, dusty city reliant on textiles, perhaps there are some similarities&.with the Manchester of the nineteenth century. Back in the centre of the city, I moved hotels. I was as close as you could be to the city's major, or only, tourist attraction, the Victorian clock tower.
I remembered what John the Irishman had said about it. It had four faces, so with five days in the city, he advised me to spread the glory of this solitary attraction out, by restricting myself to viewing only one face each day. And on the fifth day, I could really treat myself by looking at all four faces of the clock tower at once.
Still, a little to my surprise, I actually enjoyed the pleasant buzz of night time activity which took place around the clock tower. As far as night time recreational activities in Faisalabad went, the highlight was being able to sit outside drinking tea and eating ice cream.
As the man at the ice cream counter paused to serve me, he told me with sincerity that I had 'beautiful eyes'. It was disturbingly flattering, as he had not been the first person to say such a thing in this part of the world. I told him that he had beautiful ice cream, just to properly ensure that the ice didn't break or melt any further.
At the Pakistan restaurant, a cut above some of the competition simply because it had sit down tables and cutlery, I was almost in danger of being served exactly what I had ordered.
A powerful whiff of onions made my eyes water, as a local man on an adjoining table leaned across to introduce himself.
"Tell me in England, do you think we are all terrorists?" he smiled, perhaps knowing what my response would be.
"No not at all." I replied.
He smiled again as if doubting my polite sincerity before moving on to help me with some Urdu phrases.
I discovered that the Urdu word for 'English', was 'Angrezi'. It sounded like I'm crazy!
Well after midnight, a loud speaker started breaking out into some noisy religious preaching. There was also a small praying area across the corridor from my room. Shortly after I had retired to my rather basic, but functioning room, a man successfully broke in.
He paused to look at me, and didn't say a word, as if in shock that I should actually be in my own room and it did not happen to be an overflow mosque praying area, before doing an about turn and going to pray elsewhere. I thought it would be a good idea to double lock my door and pray that there would no more unwanted disturbances during the night.
The mosque music just wouldn't leave me alone into the early hours. And when it wasn't the microphone from the mosque, it was either the spluttering of passing motorbikes, or the nasty buzzing of mosquitoes. Whole hours of my nocturnal existence in Faisalabad were consumed by watching and listening to my gigantic fan whirling around above my head. I could do little more than meekly succumb to my unenviable environs.Purchase 'Batting for Pakistan'