Big B, Shafqat Amanat Ali kick-off India-Pakistan clash

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Kolkata, March 19 (IANS) Steeped in gravitas and hopes of sustained peace, the high profile India-Pakistan World Twenty20 match at the Eden Gardens here got off to a flying start as Indian cine icon Amitabh Bachchan and Pakistani singer Shafqat Amanat Ali rendered their respective national anthems amid fervour with thousands joining in the initiative at the packed arena.

At the pre-game formality, delayed by nearly two hours, Big B described the match as a “historic game of cricket between the two countries”.

Shafqat’s version of Pakistan’s ‘qaumi tarana’ “Pak sarzameen shadbad” in his inimitable style pulled the crowd to its feet. Both Indians and Pakistanis stood in reverence. The “Mora Saiyyan” and “Mitwa” singer, much-loved in India, struck a chord with the mixed crowd who listened in rapt attention.

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India’s “Jana Gana Mana” in Big B’s baritone and with a slightly deviated “Jaya He” at the close of the 52-second anthem, plunged the arena – including Indian cricketing icons Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar in patriotic fervour.

During the musical opener, both the Indian and Pakistani squad lined up with drill formations by children, and as positive vibes radiated from the renditions with each stanza, more and more people joined in to impart a choral sound.

The brief ceremony was preceded by speeches and a felicitation by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Banerjee honoured Amitabh, actor son Abhishek,A Pakistani cricketing icons Imran Khan, Wasim Akrim, Waqar Younis and Indian stars of the game Virender Sehwag, and Gavaskar with a medal, a crystal pigeon as a memento and flower bouquet.

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Amitabh wooed the crowd by reminding them that he was their ‘jamaibabu’ (sister’s husband), having married Bengali actress Jaya Bhaduri.

“Pranam, ami apnar jamaibabu,”he said, sending the spectators into raptures.

He also thanked Banerjee for his choice of the crystal pigeon — a bird considered as the symbol fo peace — as memento.

“I want to thank Mamata di for very thoughtfully giving us the symbol of peace and may the peace prevail between India and Pakistan,” he said.

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