Who are our heroes?
When it comes to India-Pakistan sporting contests, particularly ones played out on a cricket field, we always seem to get it all wrong - here as much as on the other side of the Wagah border.
This, simply because we let the heart rule on such occasions and put the mind to sleep. And, whenever the heart functions without guidance of the mind, logic is the first, and biggest, victim.
In the event, as things hot up in a World Cup where the standard of cricket has seldom matched the hype, the Super Six match between India and Pakistan to be played at Manchester on Tuesday has been promoted as the mother of all battles.
Even in the best of times - which, of course, means when all is well both sides of the border and bus diplomacy and common sense help heal long-festering wounds - a cricket match between India and Pakistan has been viewed with jaundiced eyes.
To, be sure, these are not the best of times. And, it is hardly surprising that the crucial World Cup match has been touted as a contest invested with special significance in the light of what is happening in the snowy heights of Kargil.
This - you'd realise if only you had the courage to lock up your heart and let the mind rule - is ridiculous. Actually, it should be the other way. The Super Six match between the two teams of the sub-continent should lose its significance simply because of Kargil.
What, for God's sake, is the relevance of a ball game when precious Indian lives are being sacrificed to win back Indian territory in hazardous terrain at an altitude of over 15,000 feet?
What if Shoaib Akhtar lets one fly and Sachin Tendulkar is unable to handle it? No life will have been lost. And the country would not have ceded an inch of its territory. But what of Kargil?
We talk so much of death in sport. Bowling at the death. Batting well at the death. Do-or-die battles. Sportsmen and sportslovers die a hundred deaths, and live to tell the tale. It is the essence of sport.
But if our brave men in Kargil fail to spot and counter the stuff that the well-entrenched enemies let fly at them, they are likely to come back to New Delhi in body bags. That's the difference. In sport death is a metaphor. In Kargil it is a reality, an ever present reality.
This is precisely why the Manchester contest becomes irrelevant in the light of the events in Kargil as opposed to what over- reaching copy writers and greedy Satellite television networks might have you believe.
The problem is the sheer intensity of emotions that an India- Pakistan clash touches off. It blinds many of us to reality. But if we can ever find a sane moment, we'd come to realise that for all the madness and hype surrounding the contest, it is no more than a cricket match, as trivial as that.
If it is a particularly common human trait to want to believe that something is what it is not, then its all the more so in the half-real, half-fantastic world of sport. In sport, it is very easy for us to believe what we want to believe as opposed to what really is.
So, we believe that an Indian victory on Tuesday at Manchester would redeem our national pride and our heroic performers such as Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly would help bring up that golden moment.
How naive can we become? For all the wonderful entertainment they have provided us in this World Cup, as much as in the past, the Tendulkars, Dravids and Gangulys are not much more than celebrity performers and multi-millionaire superstars.
Now, more than ever, we have to be careful not to confuse them with heroes - the real heroes. For, the nation's real heroes are men such as Major Mariappan Saravanan, Lt. Col. Viswanathan and that brave Air Force officer Ajay Ahuja, each of whom made the supreme sacrifice in the nation's cause.
What takes place in Manchester on Tuesday is no more than a cricket match, insignificant in the larger perspective. Wasim Akram and his talented men are not our enemies. Our real enemies are hiding in Kargil and being flushed out by our real heroes. And it is important for us not to lose our sense of perspective at a time such as this.
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