BIRMINGHAM: Two hulking weightlifters from opposite sides of the often tense Pakistan-India frontier shared the podium at the Commonwealth Games — and then celebrated together to their favourite rapper.
The affinity between Pakistan gold medallist Nooh Dastgir Butt and India’s Gurdeep Singh, who came third in the 109+ kilogrammes category in Birmingham on Wednesday, stands in stark contrast to the nuclear-armed neighbours’ political rivalry.
Those tensions often spill into the sporting arena — they only play each other at cricket in multi-nation events, despite it being by far the most popular sport in both countries.
The two weightlifters come from either side of Punjab, a state divided between the neighbours at Partition 75 years ago, and have a common language and culture.
They also share a love of the music of murdered Punjabi rapper Sidhu Moose Wala.
The two strongmen were born about 250 kilometres (155 miles) apart and according to 26-year-old Singh first met in junior championships six years ago.
They “would share tips about diet. Conversing in Punjabi obviously helped our friendship”, he told The Indian Express from Birmingham.
Commonwealth Games champion Butt, 24, described them as “very good friends”.
“After the gold, I first congratulated Gurdeep and later, we did a small celebration where we danced to Moose Wala’s songs,” he said.
Moose Wala, also known by his birth name Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, was shot dead in his car in the Indian state of Punjab in May.
The 28-year-old was popular on both sides of the border and among Punjabi communities abroad, especially in Canada and Britain, with his death sparking anger and outrage among fans across the world.
Butt, born into a family of wrestlers, said he also enjoyed support from across the border.
“I have more fans from India than Pakistan in the weightlifting community,” he said. “The kind of love India has given me, no other country has given me.”
His father Ghulam Dastgir Butt, a 16-time national champion wrestler, added: “I get surprised when people talk that India and Pakistan are born enemies.
“The amount of love and respect India has given to me, we also love Indian players and Hindustan the same,” The Indian Express quoted him as saying.