It is 5:30 a.m. The sun is still hiding behind the east wall of this Falls Church strip mall, but a throng of Pakistanis is queuing up to watch their homeland battle Australia for the world championship of cricket.
There are hard-core fans--faces painted Pakistan's national colors, green and white. There are diplomats, professors, sleepy toddlers and women dressed in sparkling saris and colorful hijabs--traditional scarves worn by some Muslim women.
But there is another group, too: about 50 Indian immigrants. And despite the violent border dispute in Kashmir and a long history of discord between the two countries, the Indians have come here to cheer for Pakistan.
"I fully support the Pakistan team," says Prakash Rao, 44, who moved to Fairfax from India 15 years ago. "I see much of the tensions as artificial. We share food, music, cricket, so many of the same things when we're in this country."
Inside Loehmann's Twin Cinemas, where South Asian delicacies such as paan, relentlessly chewy leaves stuffed with betel nut, are served next to popcorn, the two groups also share the sorrow of defeat when Australia crushes Pakistan. On a manicured green field in London, the Aussies win by a humiliating eight wickets.
But the South Asians here cheer their best--"Pahk-ee-STAHN VICTORY"--until it's clear things are hopeless. Cricket is, one says, the "ultimate metaphor" for proving that the subcontinent can beat the colonialists at their own game.
Sri Lanka won four years ago. This time, however, it was not to be.
"I'm so depressed," said Zubair Solanki, an Indian immigrant who lives in Frederick with his roommate, Ashtaq Ashmed, 27, who is from Pakistan. "More than anything, I wanted the [World] Cup to stay in South Asia."
India and Pakistan were divided in 1947, but for a few hours yesterday they became one again in pockets all over the United States. American-style South Asian camaraderie prevailed as fans piled side by side into Indian and Pakistani restaurants in Silver Spring and Foggy Bottom and auditoriums at George Mason University to watch the match.
"If India was playing against Australia, we would cheer them," says Zulkernain Mohammad Bhatti, 37, a Pakistani who lives in Arlington. "I'm glad there are so many Indians here."
Like other immigrant groups before them, many South Asians leave old animosities behind as they struggle to find a place in the United States. In the Indian diaspora, curry and cricket mean more than Kashmir and arms races. While relations are complex and not always sunny, the communities here often depend on each other for connections with home. Many shop for spices and frozen South Asian dinners at the same "Indo-Pak" supermarkets. There are dozens of South Asian associations for everyone from film buffs to engineers. And intermarriages are common.
Adhip Chaudhuri, an assistant professor of economics at Georgetown University and an expert on India, says, "In the U.S. they all get along. Here, if you're living in Virginia and you're Indian and your neighbor is Pakistani, it's just not an issue."
In particular, Indian and Pakistani youth tend to be pro-South Asia rather than nationalistic.
"I've seen so many Indian teens hang pictures of Pakistani players in their bedrooms," says Hita B. Roy, a former U.S. political analyst in Calcutta. "It's a pride they can share here."
An estimated 30,000 immigrants from the two countries settled in the Washington area between 1983 and 1996, particularly in Falls Church and Silver Spring, Immigration and Naturalization Service records show.
Those numbers caught the attention of Loehmann's, which now shows Indian movies seven days a week. For the past six weeks, the theater also showed World Cup cricket matches, including the well-attended India vs. Pakistan game earlier this month.
But while the audiences abroad were tense (the Pakistani captain was burned in effigy in Karachi and crowds yesterday in New Delhi celebrated their arch-rival's defeat), the Falls Church theater remained quiet. Police were on hand but didn't make any arrests.
At the theater yesterday, Mirza Ali Khan, 37, who was visiting from India, clapped and chanted as images of cricket players fluttered on the screen. "Why should we all suffer for politics?" he asked.
Still, some have the recent fighting in the subcontinent on their minds. Since Pakistan was carved out of India, the two countries have fought two wars over the status of Kashmir, a region wedged between Pakistan and Tibet. At the theater, members of the audience flipped through the Express India, a pro-India English-language newspaper for area South Asians. A headline screams: "Army Recaptures Key Positions in Kashmir."
"I shouldn't say this too loud, but I'm an Indian supporter," says Karam Capoor, 31, an Arlington resident who came here from India in 1986. "I must say I'm cheering one-tenth as loudly as when India thrashed Pakistan. But I'm still cheering."
Saqib Rafay, 22, of Arlington--his face smeared green and white--admits he'd be in bed sleeping if India were playing Australia. He quickly adds, "Still I would support India over Australia."
A vestige of British rule, the summer game became immensely popular on the Indian subcontinent. The one-day version of cricket that is played in international matches is a little like a single, very long inning of baseball. Each team has half an inning to score as many runs as it can. The first side up tries to run up the largest margin possible. Then players stop the game for midafternoon tea before the second side comes to bat.
As the match wound down, both Indians and Pakistanis began to file out. Others stayed to the end, pacing and lamenting Pakistan's fate as Aussie kangaroos danced on screen.
Then, almost out of nowhere, a handful of Australian fans appeared.
But as they looked at how the Indians and Pakistanis were getting along, they decided not to gloat.
CAPTION: Saqib Rafay, left, and Taimur Amjad wear their loyalty on their faces, even as Pakistan succumbs to Australia during the World Cup final by eight wickets.
CAPTION: Pakistan's Inzamam ul-Haq bats during the World Cup final against Australia in London.