As the Indo-Pak cricket teams locked horns in the recently concluded Champions Trophy final in England, Kashmir responded with the characteristic deserted streets. But as Pakistan defeated India by twilight that day, those deserted streets—especially that of Old Srinagar’s restive Nowhatta—witnessed grand celebrations.
Nasir Najar’s home was more of a pavilion for the day, ringing with cricket commotion. The rooms were packed with cricket buffs — for whom the men with green jersey weren’t just any other team playing in faraway England, resembling Kashmir, albeit climate-wise. That cheering and chanting crowd inside Najar’s house in restive Nowhatta wore anxious faces and glued eyes on top of the mouths that had choicest things to offer against ‘their’ archrivals.
But the 30-year-old coppersmith, Najar was no meek when it came to making some noise over their ‘play over them’. Since long now, his staunch ‘green’ support has made him a ‘class of his own’ in the entire neighbourhood where pro-Pak sentiments, slogans and signs aren’t new.
His peers often join him on raging shopfront cricket discussions, recalling the last time when Pakistan lost the 2011 World cup semi-final against India. In rage, Najar had grabbed hold of his television, tearing the wires plugged into the walls, and flung it right out his window, sending a shockwave across half his neighborhood.
But 2017 was different from 2011.
Television sets were all over the place. Countless necks stood still for hours. Kashmiri Pak fanboys were looking forward to this match after being left “heartbroken” by their team’s last outing against India. With new changes in the Pakistani team, the final appeared excited. One supporter even compared it to Trial By Combat in the famous TV series Game of Thrones.
First signs of celebrations erupted when Fakhar U Zaman hit his maiden century. Nisar and his friends turned up at Nowhatta square—already filled with crowd—to celebrate. A barrage of young supporters was converging to the center of this part of the city. No sooner, did he join the jamboree, the old slogans resounded: “Hum Pakistanni hai, Pakistan hamara hai. (We are Pakistani and Pakistan is ours)”
The ‘happy’ chant was followed by the loud bang of cracker burst. Nobody went home even after Pakistan closed the first inning, recalls Nisar. Under normal circumstances, Iftaar could have coerced a break in the anticipated audience. But people had made special arrangements for Iftaar on the road to avoid any halt.
By then, he says, a ‘sea of spectators’ had assembled in Nowhatta — desperately waiting for the second inning. Many were browsing cricket websites for the updates. They were swarmed by the Smartphone-less brigade for getting a glimpse of the ticking score. Every hand was holding a different firecracker and a lighter. The loud bangs supplemented the noise and the pro-Pakistan slogans. The sky was coloured with sparks and smoke from the crackers. Every passing car would pull over to join the ‘contagious’ celebration spree.
Then they lost it when the Pak quickie Mohammad Amir sent the Indian opener Rohit Sharma packed to the dressing room. The fiery pacer, Najar says, triggered such a commotion of cries and crackers that no one was able to hear their own voice. “Every face was jubilant,” says Nisar, as if feeling of that triumph is yet to sink in him. “Amir was responding the way Kashmiris wanted him to respond. It was as if the crowd was speaking to him. Praying for him. They christened him Chota Shahzada [Little Prince].”
‘Chota Shahzaada’, the name given to Mohammad Amir in Srinagar that night, as people danced shirtless & crackers filled the skies.
Amid cheers and chants, the crowd at Nowhatta was now getting mindful of the fact that the Indian cricket team was been pushed to the back-foot with each fall of wicket. The applause of the spectators in the stadium would resonate with the loud sound of firecrackers all over the restive square.
What aided this celebration was the Nowhatta’s firecracker outlet. If anything would have a bumper sale that day, Najar says, it were firecrackers. “People gathered at Nowhatta collected money to buy firecrackers. Everyone contributed willingly and happily,” he says. During that fundraising, Najar remembers how the collectors were told: ‘Now when we put our money where our mouth is, let Pakistan win this!’
Crackers were competing with the sound of drums. Scores were dancing on the festive tunes of the young drummers. Dancing may be blasphemous, says Nisar, but “an exception for our love for Pakistan can be made”.
In the face of this street passion, scores of female folks had converged over all the windows and terraces of every house in the locality. Nisar pictures it an overwhelming scene where each house had a silhouette of anxious celebrating women and kids. Through that windowsill canopy came down the showering confetti of chocolates and flowers. The cellphones’ flashlights made it look like a makeshift dance club.
That grand celebration wasn’t seen only in Nowhatta but across the Valley. But the one at Nowhatta was the “biggest celebrations of my life,” Nisar says. “It was good to see people happy, enjoying because we haven’t celebrated anything after the floods. When it wasn’t that, it was the curfew during our festivals. All we had seen was people upset and kids locked behind the walls of their houses.”
As wicket after wicket was tumbling, the entire area was becoming a massive sight of celebration—if not a moniker war-zone for the night. Many were behaving as if the Azadi has been declared. Later most of them returned home with parched throats. The night of intense sloganeering also saw the participation of young crowd like Sahil, who had made a vow to fast the entire day for Pakistan to win.
By midnight as the people began walking out of the square, the streets matted with firecracker residue left behind. An entire stock of firecrackers ordered and spared for Eid by the local shopkeeper was smoked up during that grand celebration. Indeed, Najar says, Eid had arrived quite early this year in Kashmir, and how!