When Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi decided to join hands
as a tennis doubles team, little did they know their on-court
partnership will be hailed as one transcending the bitter
cross-border relations between India and Pakistan.
Bopanna, raised in the coffee-growing Coorg region, near the
southern Indian city of Bangalore and Qureshi, born in Lahore, are
tennis' most intriguing doubles pairing, coming from countries
that share a turbulent past. The relations between the two
neighbours India and Pakistan have become more frostier post-2008
Mumbai terror attack but Bopanna and Qureshi have been embraced as
a welcome change.
Bopanna, who with Qureshi reached their maiden Grand Slam final at
the US Open Wednesday, defeating Argentina's Eduardo Schwank and
Horacio Zaballos 7-6(5), 6-4 in the US Open tennis men's doubles
semi-finals, said they are trying to promote peace through tennis.
"I think there's a lot more than just us playing together. We're
just trying to promote peace through sports. We are not looking
into any political part or anything. We're just trying to see if
people can change their minds. If we both can get along, why can't
others as well," Bopanna said.
Their friendship of more than 10 years has weathered the political
storm and the two 30-year-olds admit facing problems in the
beginning of their partnership.
"Initially we did have a few problems, because a Pakistani was
partnering an Indian at major tournaments, but people appreciate
the fact that we're sticking together and have done well.
"There isn't too much prejudice now, but I would be naive to say
there wasn't any grievance."
It is only later the two realised the interest their unique
partnership evoked in the public eye.
"It was just a case of finding somebody to play with on the tour.
We spoke similar languages. I speak in Hindi and Aisam speaks
Urdu. We didn’t think about the national divide, until the media
were alerted by our success," Bopanna was quoted as saying in the
Qureshi, the reticent of the two, and first Pakistan player to be
in top 50 in doubles, has lived the prejudice of being a Muslim
post 9/11 attack when often he had to wait for his visas. But the
two stuck on. The partnership which began in the middle of 2007
flourished with each passing tournament.
Qureshi hopes his success with Bopanna would bring change in the
Western perception of Muslims and relief to the people back in
Pakistan torn by floods and corruption.
"The beauty of sport is that it brings together different cultures
and religions. It is free from all the conflicts," Qureshi said.
"I feel like the western world and America, they have a very wrong
perception about Muslims and Pakistan. We do have terrorist
groups, we do have extremists, but I feel like every religion
there are extremists there. You know, it doesn't mean that the
whole nation is terrorist or extremist.
"Pakistan is a very peace loving country. Everybody loves sports.
I think everybody wants peace, as well. The only reason we are
actually getting so many terrorist attacks is because we are
allies with America and the western world in fighting this cause.
I just hope that I get this opportunity also tomorrow to address
to the people. I can let them know also that their perception of
Pakistanis being a terrorist country is definitely very, very
wrong," he said.
"Pakistan has been going through a lot for the last two or three
years from all the terrorist attacks and the flooding now for the
last few months and the cricket scandal, also. I'm just very happy
and proud that I can send positive news back home for people to
cheer about," said Qureshi, who also reached the final of the
mixed doubles with Czech Kveta Peschke.
Seen as ambassadors of peace, the two are considering wearing
T-shirts with the slogan 'Stop War, Start Tennis, Love India/Love
Pakistan' to promote tennis and better relations between the two