I’m starting to discover some differences between India and Pakistan.
Not that I set out to define them non this trip, but the question keeps coming up. It’s an inevitable as Donald Trump tweeting like a drunk Texan.
The conversation usually goes like this:
“Hi Dennis. How are you finding Pakistan?
Do you like the food? Have you tried an anday wala [egg with a lentil and unknown meat patty] burger yet?
Are we better than India?”
Now, I’ve spent plenty of time in India. I think my first trip was in 1997, but I can’t be certain. I also was visiting there on long stays during 2004/05. My last trip was probably 2008. Most importantly, I went everywhere from Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Goa, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and probably another 50 places that I can’t recall.
I’ve seen a lot of places and have memories of the country, but none are recent.
However, there are some things that do resonate.
Firstly, Pakistan is clearly a cleaner place. It could be better social services, it could be the influence of Islam or it could be that the people here just care more. I don’t know. But there is little rubbish in the streets. The food hasn’t made me sick. Neither has the water.
Secondly, there is a lower rate of beggars in the streets. Again, perhaps Pakistan is better with social services or look after their poor differently?
What I have noticed is that almost without fail, when a beggar asks someone for money, people will donate something.
It is done without hesitation or disdain. There’s something heart-warming about this part of the Pakistani social fabric.
Our day began with a production meeting. This trip isn’t all just roaming around, eating awesome meals, talking to famous people and then taking a selfie with them. We are making a documentary, and given it is something I haven’t done on this scale before, it is a little daunting.
I keep telling myself that it is just storytelling. I have a penchant for that. I also remind myself to trust the crew. I have a professional team of cameramen with me, a local fixer and a producer. It is making my life easier.
They set up the meetings and activities. I just turn up, participate, ask questions and move on to the next thing.
The fun part is working out what footage to use. We have two or three cameras rolling on every shot. Sometimes we also use a drone. The footage from that is amazing.
But for example, we interviewed Misbah for an hour. This isn’t 60 Minutes, so we need to cut up the best bits and spread them over the whole project.
After some debate, we’ve landed on producing 6 x 30 minute episodes of the show. Each will be themed. For example, there will be a show dedicated to Tape Ball cricket and what it means to the youth here. Tere will be one on match fixing and exploring the negative western perceptions of Pakistan. There will be one on Islam and its impacts on society, the game and the role of women in cricket.
You get the drift.
We have decided to go down this route to make it easier for TV to take the final product. Now we have to ensure that the final product is up to scratch. I know it will be. The team on this is amazing and we are all aligned.
Haider Azhar, General Manager of the Multan Sultans kindly accepted my invitation for a chat. He is a lawyer by trade and has an intimate knowledge of the Pakistan’s match fixing history. We debate this for about an hour.
He tells me that at Multan, they are promoting a zero tolerance policy to match fixing. Yet, he works side by side with Wasim Akram whom has been implicated in the past via the Qayyum report. This was a body of work commissioned in 2000 to look into allegations of match fixing in Pakistan. It is worth the read.
Haider also tells me that he personally vouched for Mohammad Irfan to join the Multan squad. A player who was suspended for not reporting the approaches of a bookie in last year’s Pakistan Super League.
I find these positions conflicting.
In my mind, match fixing is like pregnancy. You either are or you are not. You can’t be half pregnant. Yet is Haider’s view, there are grey areas to this issue.
We debate them with fervour and passion, but always under that important umbrella of deep respect for each other.
It was possibly the most engaged I have been in an interview so far this trip.
The day then moved on to a panel discussion to eager students at LUMS [Lahore University of Management Sciences]. It is a world class campus, with wide lush gardens and modern buildings.
I’ve decided to put myself out there and attempt a small 15 minute cricket comedy routine before moving into the panel discussion with a host of Pakistani cricketing identities.
We arrived 45 minutes late. A combination of Lahore’s crappy traffic and our crappy time management.
When I enter, the gathered crowd of 150 give me a nice round of applause. This is surreal. I have no time to settle into my surrounding so jump straight into my routine.
“Thanks so much for welcoming me to LUMS guys. I assume is stands for Lahore University of Match Fixing Studies?”
Thankfully there is laughter.
Many poor jokes later and the routine is complete. I gave myself a 7.5/10. Only a few one liners bombed, but most drew a reaction.
I’ll share a little secret with you. I’ve always dreamed of being a stand-up comedian. Now that I’ve tried it, I want to do it again. It’s such a buzz.
The panel discussion went into all kinds of areas about Pakistan and cricket, including the impact of societies values here on women’s opportunities and the ability for Pakistan to draw the big names back for proper tours.
Afterwards, a few people hung around for selfies and a bit of a chat. I always enjoy this part. It’s never easy approaching someone you don’t know and asking for a picture. It is important for me that I enquire as to their name and why they are here.
“Did you enjoy it?”
Before we leave, I interview Anam Nadeem. A young woman who at age 17 was told by her parents to stop playing cricket despite being told she would be selected to play for Pakistan.
“You need to finish your studies.
You need to get married.
Which boy will have you if you behave like this?”
It is a common theme that I’m hearing. But Anam, like so many other women I’ve met in Pakistan are now comfortable standing up to some of these norms. They are building new roads that are leading to thrilling destinations for those women that will follow.
I ask Anam if Pakistan will ever be a place that provides equal opportunity for men and women across both cricket and society as a whole.
Pakistan, you need to do better.