Archive for December, 2004

Calcutta Diary

Monday, December 20th, 2004

Dec 20, 2004

Eden Rhapsody

On the third day of the 1,724th Test match ever played, the crowds stream into Eden Gardens with hope in their hearts. Sehwag is on 82, Dravid on 33; Sachin, Saurav and Laxman are next in queue on what seems to be a good batting track. Surely there will be some fireworks?

Sadly, it is not to be. Sehwag hits a huge six and departs immediately after. But India has nearly 150 on the board with only two wickets gone; perfect situation for Sachin to let loose. Instead, he decides to put his nose to the grindstone. After his long lay-off, there is clearly tremendous pressure on him to perform and he has responded by batting in the dourest possible manner. But Sachin playing only with his head and no heart, only copybook cricket and no flamboyant passion is cricket’s loss. And not even, perhaps, the right strategy for him. At Calcutta, he scores 20 off 54 balls, before being bowled. I am sure millions of cricket lovers across the world are hoping their hero will just be his natural self, the man born to rule over bowlers.

After having been bored silly for three days, not too many venture towards the ground the next morning. But that changes as soon as the first South African wicket falls. Word goes round the city that Harbhajan and Kumble are going to rip through the batting. By tea, about 60,000 people have gathered in the stands, and the roar is a thunderous echoing constant. The crowd has become a single gigantic—and very loud—mind willing the Indians forward, forcing the opposition to make mistakes. When the fifth wicket falls (Dippenar), a Mexican wave goes round and round and round, a mesmerising and never-ending circle of pure passion. There is no more electrifying place to be than Eden Gardens when India scents victory.

Cabbie Code

While much has improved in Calcutta—flyovers, new shopping malls, the riverside makeover, traffic remains terrifying. There are hardly any undented cars in the city, and all taxi drivers drive with the simple assumption that the man in the car coming at him head-on is less insane than himself. Every taxi ride is serious panic-attack time. In two days, my cab was hit twice by other cars. When that happens, the drivers simply stick their necks out of the windows, abuse each other and drive on. They don’t even get down to check the damage. In only one other city in the world have I been so scared sitting in cars—Kabul.

Telly My Future

When in Calcutta, I keep myself amused by watching astrology channels, packed with soothsayers—from bloodshot-eyed tantriks to sleek laptop-toters—answering phone-in questions. Sample 1. Young man on phone, after giving his date of birth: “Sir, I have a girlfriend. Can you tell me about her character?” Tantrik: “She’s very sentimental, no?” Young man: “Yes, sir.” Tantrik: “You won’t be able to handle her. Forget her.” Young man: “OK, sir, thank you, sir.” Disconnects. Gushing compere: “Guruji, you could divine his girlfriend’s character from his birth date?!” Tantrik (eyeballs rolled upwards): “It’s all Maa Kali’s blessings! Maa! Maa!” Sample 2. Man on phone: “My business isn’t doing well.” Astro-palmist: “How can it do well when you have such a bad temper?” Man: “But everyone tells me that I am too meek to be in business.” Astro-palmist: “Don’t argue! It says here in your chart that you have a very bad temper.” Man: “But I can’t even admonish my staff when they don’t listen to me!” Astro-palmist: “Please don’t waste my time with your lies. Anyway, business is going to be bad for two more years. Next caller please.”

Oops, Rahul!

Rahul Dravid is agitated, an extremely rare state for him. He has the Outlook 75 Years of Indian Cricket open on the table at page 85, where there’s a picture of him leaning against an S-class Mercedes convertible. Says the caption: “He came into the cute sweepstakes pretty early, but the Wall walled off most of it. All the other super-rich trappings are in place though.” “The car belongs to a friend of mine!” says Dravid. “I am not the type who drives a Mercedes, I don’t want or flaunt ‘super-rich trappings’! I’m deeply disturbed by this totally wrong impression of me that Outlook is giving its readers! I am—hey, wait a minute! Sandipan, you work for Outlook, right?” “Right.” “Oops!” No, Rahul, no oops. We see your point and you are correct. Thanks for the great time we had in Jeet and Malavika’s home that night. And sorry about the picture.

Till Princedom Come

Prince of Calcutta he may not technically be, but Saurav Ganguly reigns over the city. And the man knows it. When he comes out for net practice, the spectators cheer like demons. So he gives himself a bit more time to soak in the adulation. Doesn’t walk straight to the nets, but strolls along the stands with the crowd yelling “Dada! Dada!” and then turns away from the fans to go to the net area.

When, with Sachin out, Ganguly strides out to bat, he is cheered wildly all the way to the crease and every shot of his meets with a roar that other crowds reserve for when a visiting side’s tenth wicket falls. And then the unthinkable happens. Dada is judged lbw on 40. The crowd is deathly silent. But as he nears the pavilion, the stadium gets to its feet and applauds him in. TV replays show that Ganguly was actually not out. The headline of the main match report the next day in a Bengali newspaper is Calcutta plainspeak: “Once more, Saurav is umpire’s fodder”. In the 13 innings he has played before the people who love him the most, Ganguly has only one score above 50.