Playing in the Hampi Ruins
With the Australian tour of India almost upon us, new World Cricket Watch columnist and regular One Hand One Bounce guest Jim Stephens fondly remembers his time in a cricket mad country
“We are having a saying in India Mr Jimi about your line and length guru, Mr Glen Mack Graaarth. If you are to be putting one rupee on the pitch, then he his hitting that rupee six out of six times”
With the Aussies set to tour India from early October, my mind strayed back a year and a coupla months to the seven weeks I spent travelling the subcontinent in 2009. Anyone who is white skinned and has been to India has to form an opinion about cricket pretty quickly. If it’s ‘Piss off! I hate cricket and the people that play it are misogynist wankers’ right through to diehard fans for whom India is a place where every second person talks your ear off, you’re bound to be talked at and to about the sport at least 14 times a day.
It’s no secret that Indian crickets fans are passionate, a glance the Indian Premier League or the fact that Sachin Tendulkar is about to have a book published in his own blood reveals this quickly enough. What intrigued me was the mind-boggling knowledge of the game and its players that many Indian men possess.
“Is it to your thinking that Mr Brad Hodge has been left out of the Australian Test Team due to bureaucratic reasons and not his record at the top level or his form in your domestic first class competition which, one is forced to concede, is impeccable”?
Or even more specific…
“Mr Jimi, you must be knowing about the current role that the former Victorian bowling all-rounder Mr Tony Dodemaide is playing in the development of cricket in the fine state that you call home, no”?
“I’m sorry Ramesh but I haven’t the faintest idea of what Tony Dodemaide is up to these days” I replied.
This kind of conversation was not uncommon and the ability to talk at length about past and present Indian team members held me in good stead and strengthened the friendships and respect I gained from such chats.
Before travelling to India I was warned about the various scams that devious folk would try out on me, and you kinda have to be scammed once or twice before you get your street-smarts and can see through the crafty set-ups. Although, I had to give it to the young struggling artist in Udaipur who got me in with a cup of chai and began from there…
“Oh you’re from Melbourne, that’s fantastic – great city, great artistic and sporting city. My fellow student artists and I are travelling there in three weeks for an exhibition.”
My internal monologue was saying: Oh no you’re not, I happen to work at the NGV mister, you ain’t getting an art exhibition past this Melbournian…..but wait…. what was that? You’re having an exhibition at the civic centre in the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell? Holy Shit! That’s ridiculous
“When is the exhibition”?
“Like I said Jimi, in three weeks. My master is currently in Delhi sorting out the last of the paperwork for us. It’s very exciting. Now would you like to see our studio?” he replied
The set up was really something to behold. Four or five young men, all looking very focussed as they dabbed bits of paint here and there, drew sketches and generally played the part of young struggling artists pretty well.
“This is one of our students, meet Ravi, he’s only just joined our group and is learning fast. Please follow me into the show room….”
I bought a few miniature paintings at prices that I later discovered were pretty reasonable (my bargaining was running on 12 cylinders those days) but learned a day or so later on that the whole thing was an elaborate scam.
An American guy stopped me in the street after seeing me wave to the young struggling artist.
“Did those guys tell you they were having an exhibition in Melbourne by chance?”
“Yeah, I got that one too, I’m from Houston but they mentioned Belair man, and I took it, easy as you like”!
These guys are pros. I have no idea how many small places within big paces they’ve memorized but to reel off the Camberwell Civic Centre was almost worth what I paid for the art. You had to hand it to them, it’s a genuine ripper. I went back into the studio the day after and asked to look at the progress made on the paintings that were being done earlier. Nothing. They had not changed a bit. The guys just sat there, like extras in a film doing everything and nothing, really something to behold.
Maybe at this point you’re starting to think that you’ve clicked a link to a travel advice page and where the hell is the cricket story? Fair enough. The point I wanted to make is that whilst there’s plenty of bullshit in India, when it comes to cricket, there is only fervour and love. People freely speak their minds and appreciate it when you do too.
One man in Northern India quite astutely pointed out that if I was indeed a big fan of Rahul Dravid then it would follow that I must also like trout fishing, another activity that requires extreme patience. We talked for some time about Saurav Ganguly’s role as the grandfather of the current test side and how many people felt that M.S. Dhoni was riding on his coat tails without paying due respect. The fact that I’d met the Prince of Kolkata a few years ago in Melbourne was almost too much for many people.
The younger guys I talked shop with were at a loss to explain how someone of my age liked Test Cricket. “But what about Gilchrist, Sehwag, Gambir”? They’d implore. Some of these guys actually called me The Great Wall of Melbourne after I shouldered arms to the first ball bowled at me at one of the many small games I played in. And, it is true that where ever there is enough space, or sometimes when there’s not, a game of cricket will start up sooner or later.
My trip ended in Calcutta, the city I had most fun in, and home to Eden Gardens – a very special place. There were no games on when I was there, the IPL was being played in South Africa because of the Indian General Elections, but the nice security guard at gate 3 waved me in beyond his automatic weapon that lay against his jeep. I thought he allowed me in after looking into my eyes and seeing the passion within, but the 800 Rupees he asked for as I exited put that thought to bed.
“I’ll come back and pay you tomorrow” I told him, “So long as you can hit the same rupee six times out of six times”
All images taken by author
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