Saturday, March 31, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Bits and pieces

Just a few random notes on Jamaica before I, hopefully, leave for Guyana.

1. Nothing to do with Kingston per se, but these people play reruns of Frasier, Becker, Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond all the time on TV. Those are my favourite sitcoms. Not just that, they keep showing the four Harry Potter films all the time as well. So the hour or so before going to sleep is always good fun.

2. Had mentioned the few books I had bought earlier. Am reading a charming book called Cricket In The Road by Michael Anthony. It’s a book of short stories that is brought out as part of a ‘Caribbean Writers Series’ series around these parts. Rather simplistic stuff, but Caribbeanly charming.

3. For Indian journalists brought up on a staple of Press Club evenings, Jamaica is a revelation. Journalists here usually hang out together on Friday and Saturday evenings. The drinking part is optional and totally incidental. Everyone goes out and has a great deal of fun in a few select hangouts. Like Chelsea Bar, where you can play a variety of cue sports, dominoes, video games and stuff, as well as dance, sing to karaoke mixes (which is a very popular option)…that sort of thing. Now I would choose the Press Club option, primarily because I don’t dance. But the reason why the Jamaican option is exciting is because of the way in which colleagues get together and have fun. No inhibitions when it comes to getting on the stage and singing, dancing with colleagues, making fools of yourselves…

4. One of the biggest television channels here is called TV Jamaica. Now these people have a rooftop party place that stays open every day of the week, but is obviously more in demand on Friday and Saturday nights, when the party goes on till the early hours of the morning. People finish work and head straight for the rooftop for a few hours of shooting pool, karaoke (and other general music), dancing, drinking, joking, fooling around, etc. This rooftop place is actually within the office. And it exists only to make the employees happy.

5. Have I ever mentioned Jerk Chicken in my Jamaica blogs? Don’t think so. It’s a most fantastic preparation of chicken that’s exclusive to the West Indies. How do I describe it? Okay, it’s a bit like Tandoori Chicken in the sense that the pieces of chicken are similar in terms of softness and texture. But then, where TC has a crusty kind of outer cover, JC has a soft leathery kind of outer layer that comes off easily when approached. And unlike TC, where the insides are kind of dry and fibrous, JC has the sauce seeping all the way inside to the bones and therefore tastier. This is not to run the TC down, because I do love it, but JC rocks. The other great thing about JC is that it is available all over the place, at all hours, and comes with mashed potatoes, breads, peas and various other things.

6. Also realised that I have never mentioned Victor Taylor. Taylor is a taxi driver by day and a police department employee by night, when he actually sleeps to make sure he is in shape for the driving. The most interesting thing about Taylor is that I don’t understand a single word of what he is saying, because he has the strangest accent. For example, he’ll say “Do you have sino in India?” when he is asking about “snow”. Have no clue where he gets his accent from, but he is a really, really sweet chap.

7. And I’ve also not mentioned Dolores the cleaning lady at the Indies Hotel. Around 60 and totally batty, meet Dolores in the morning and wish her, and her response is always a cheerful “Yes I’m blessed, and Jesus loves you too”.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: The Jamaican evening

The mind works in strange ways, doesn’t it? The spur for me wanting to write a post on the people here was actually this wonderful evening we spent with a set of Jamaican people…and eventually forgot to mention that altogether in the Karyl-Olivia-Rohan haze.

One of our fellow journalists here had shacked up at one of these residential bed-and-breakfasts…the landlady was a lovely chirpy middle-aged woman called Joyce. Joyce is about 60, teaches people to bake cakes for a living, and lives alone in a quaint old double-storey apartment, where this journalist was staying during his stopover in Kingston.

Now cricket isn’t Joyce’s cup of tea, but it is for most of the locals she is friends with. And hearing that we had all come from India to cover the World Cup, Joyce’s friends wanted to meet up with us.

Can’t say we made a great impression with our happy-that-India-have-lost attitude which is so alien to these rather motherland-loving people. But all of Joyce’s friends were great fun. To start with, most of them follow cricket, and the deal in Jamaica is that either you don’t follow cricket, or you’re manic about the game.

Stephanie, for example. She is in his mid-50s as well, but has talked nothing but cricket for the past 30-odd years, and is trying her darnedest to ensure her daughter follows in her footsteps. “But Simone wants to party and can’t understand why I like sitting in the sun the whole day”. Simone has been taken to matches, but has often been misplaced during drinks breaks only to be found at home in the evening. And an evening with Indian cricket journalists wasn’t Simone’s cup of tea, so she gave it a miss.

But can Stephanie talk cricket! As can Ben and William and Roger and the rest of the many people who bombarded us with questions, and then provided better answers than we did.

And more than cricket, can they laugh! You have to realise that these people aren’t particularly rich. Not that they are poor, but in an Indian context, they would be called Lower Middle Class. And all of them had gone to work the day before and would again the following day.

Joyce is a good cook as well and has the right philosophy about entertaining guests. All she had made was rice-with-peas, chicken roast, beef steak and pork shreds!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: It’s about the people

Journalists often have it really easy when it comes to meeting the better lot of people in a foreign land. Here in Kingston, for example, I’ve met some people who I would be more than willing to host at home in Delhi…

None moreso than the homophobic Rastafarian journalist Karyl Walker. Dreadlocked and as Rasta as Rasta gets, Karyl is an absolutely charming Jamaican journalist. Karyl can’t always be relied on for information or news, but outside of the professional leg, Karyl is fantastic. He is one of the most intelligent men I have ever met, and can hold a conversation on most topics for a long, long time. Of course, it helps that he can hold his drink as well and can give you company with a drink for a long time as well.

Karyl is a 41-year-old single parent. He married twice, but both his wives passed away. He has two “very beautiful daughters”, and spends most of his time smoking grass and trying to track down big breaking stories, but that’s that…

Karyl’s friend is a most intelligent girl called Olivia, who Karyl often sends out on errands in the middle of the night (nothing nefarious, let me assure you). If Karyl can hold a conversation, Olivia can make conversations happen. She was a journalist, but is now into some public relations stuff…

Of course, there is Rohan Powell. Named after the former West Indies cricketer, Rohan has become a big hero in India after his superb journalistic work to do with the Bob Woolmer murder investigations. Is a most reliable chap, completely charming and tremendously helpful.

James the driver, Angela the waitress, Nicolo the duty manager at one of the hotels I stayed in, who has a brand new fantastic theory on Woolmer’s murder every single morning, and is convinced he is totally right each time…all really wonderful characters.

There is, of course, the other group as well. Like Andrew the journalist, who other Jamaican journalists say we should all be “very careful of”. He is usually very, very nattily dressed, has an assistant called Joel with him, and usually goes around asking people for money to “go home”, or “have a soda” or just “grab my dinner”. And his sodas usually cost as much as a taxi ride across Kingston. Joel is no different, and when Andrew isn’t borrowing money, Joel is.

It’s a mixed bag, as it always is. But when a Jamaican is good, like Karyl, Olivia and Rohan are, they are really, really good and go out of their way to make you comfortable. And that’s always a wonderful memory to have, especially when you’ve come to a once-in-a-lifetime kind of place like Jamaica.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Food update

Just had oxtails!!!

Trips such as these inevitably end up as being basic grab-a-burger-or-a-pizza kind of trips, with very little time available to eat all the well-advertised local options. Pakistan was different because the basic option was a grab-a-fantastic-new-form-of-kebab…

Here, well, I just had the braised oxtails. Very tasty, cooked as it was in some sort of yummy sauce. But they had loads of bones; strange, because I didn’t tails would have such solid bones. Unless oxtails are not tails of oxen…are they? Dunno!

Haven’t had a chance to have any of the lobsters and stuff on offer, but have been feasting on some good fish. You don’t need to go to one of the better restaurants for good fish here; any small place or even you hotel room service is good if fish is your thing. Loads of mackerel, tuna, snappers and salmons. In various forms and with different sauces used to alter the taste.

What I didn’t like though, was the ackee. Remember ‘Ackee rice and the fish is nice…”? That’s ackee. I came here thinking ackee was a kind of rice – like Basmati. Ergo, Ackee rice. Nope. Ackee is ackee. It’s a fruit, that is mashed and made to look like scrambled eggs and is had with fish. Doesn’t taste too bad, but I didn’t like the texture – it’s kind of squishy. But the saltfish you have with the ackee is good.

The other grand thing about Jamaica is that you get the most fantastic tropical fruits. Many kinds of melons, papayas, bananas, mangoes, etc…really, really good stuff.

Will keep my many devoted readers updated on the next great bit of flesh that I try.

WORLD CUP DIARY: Of slicing bellies and Woolmer’s memory

What does a blogger do when he spends almost all his time at the lobby of the hotel where Bob Woolmer was killed? Well, not much. Except that (a) he doesn’t blog, and (b) he looks for opportunities to run away for a spot of sightseeing every once in a way. All I have been doing for the past week is waiting at the Pegasus lobby, because this is where all the news filters in, the local journalists spread rumours, and the investigators throw in occasional guest appearances.

Which is why yesterday – a Sunday here in Jamaica – I chose to wake up early and go off to Port Royal. Early, because I had to get back before the investigators came out to say anything. And it was a really, really nice break with a good deal of sea, hilly terrains and stuff thrown in.

The village of Port Royal used to be a British naval base, and even saw Horatio Nelson spend some time heading the troops. But more interestingly, Port Royal used to be the biggest pirates’ den in the 1600s and 1700s; Captain Morgan being the most in-famous of the lot. So the little village does have a lot of history and that certainly demanded a trip on our part.

The drive itself is rather breathtaking. You have the Caribbean Sea to your right, and the Blue Mountains accompanying you to the left all the way down from Kingston to Port Royal. And then you enter the rather sleepy and quaint fishing village, which is approximately the size of an average Delhi residential colony. Lots of wooden houses, wooden restaurants and bars…narrow roads with zillions of boats in various states of disrepair scattered around.

Being a Sunday, the fisherfolk had chosen to wake up late and hit the pubs straightaway in all their fish-stink glory. Believe me, the entire village smells like Chittaranjan Park does around 11.00pm, when the markets are closing, and the fish-wallahs throw out their fish-water on to the streets. But if you can ignore the smell – easy for me, with my dysfunctional nose – they provide some fantastic company and great conversation in their slightly-tough-to-decipher-rustic-drawl.

It’s from them that I got to know that Morgan and the rest of the buccaneers looted out on sea and then brought all their loot to Port Royal and hid everything in the village itself. Not that any of it survived, because not only did pirates steal from the sea, they also stole from each other. And they liked their drink and their women more than anything else, and wasted most of the money on suchlike pursuits. As a result of all this, Port Royal came to be known as the ‘wickedest place in the world’ at the time.

But more importantly, the pirates of the time weren’t anything like Captain Jack Sparrow or Bootstrap Bill Turner…or even the losers in the Asterix comics. They were really cruel, and enjoyed a laugh with such forms of cruelty as slicing open bellies of pregnant women. The myth goes that drunk buccaneers would spot pregnant women and bet on whether the woman was going to have a boy or a girl. Wagers laid out on the table, they would proceed to slice open the pregnant woman’s belly and figure out who wins. The woman would then be left to bleed to death as the moneys were fought over.

But that was then, and the British managed to waylay them over time and the pirates were gradually obliterated. Very few remains remain now, and most of the heritage spots around Port Royal are British artillery settlements and fortresses…quite average in terms of their aesthetic appeal.

But there’s one very, very interesting structure inside the fort called Fort Charles. It’s called the Giddy House. Why is it called the Giddy House? Well, it’s basically a House that makes you feel Giddy. Simple as that. It was a godown or storehouse for ammunition back in the British days, but sunk some 15-odd degrees after a major earthquake in 1907 (one of many to have hit the Jamaican island). What that’s done is that the whole house has become sort of like Charlie Chaplin’s log cabin in Gold Rush. So as you step inside, it gets very difficult to hold on to your balance and it does make you feel giddy.

Anyway, that’s that. My trip to St Kitts was cancelled earlier, and now, when I am supposed to be in Georgetown, Guyana, I am still in Kingston with no clear idea of when I can move to another part of the Caribbean. Any place will do, really…but Mr Woolmer’s memory forces me to hang on here.

PS: Have got my paws on another CLR James. This one is a collection of his articles and letters and suchlike stuff called A Majestic Innings. Have just started on it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Crossing Streets in Kingston

This is something I have been meaning to write about ever since I reached Jamaica, but never seemed to get around to doing it...

You know, both in Montego Bay and here in Kingston, pedestrians and drivers have this fantastic understanding between them that makes life very, very simple. A car will be driving down the road. Unless it is going at a very high speed, all a pedestrian has to do to cross the street, is step on to the road, put out our hand asking for the car to stop, and walk across. The car will invariably stop.

And that's not all. For us visitors who don't know this system, it takes just one walkaround to get it. Stand on the sidewalk, waiting for the traffic to ease up before walking across. But you don't have to do that. If a driver spots you waiting on the sidewalk, s/he will stop for you anyway, and signal at you to go across. No problem. Yah, mon!

Fantastic, isn't it?

WORLD CUP DIARY: Woolmer and thereafter

It’s been a mad few days at work here at the World Cup, and I seem to have lost all perspective of time. If my memory serves me right, it was the day before yesterday – on the 18th, a day after Ireland beat Pakistan – that he died. That makes it approximately 53 hours since his death.

I was across at the Melbourne Cricket Club at the time, planning to put together what would have been a great set of stories. A group of Irish club cricketers who are in Kingston were playing a match against A West Indian All-Star XI, that included Michael Holding, Gordon Greenidge, Lawrence Rowe and others. Less famous members of the team included Carlton Baugh Jr, Robert Samuels (Marlon’s brother) and Xavier Marshall.

That made it three potentially great interviews, a story on the event and a story with Robert on Marlon. All of it, obviously, got scrapped when the Woolmer news came in; at the time, just that he had been hospitalised. Soon of course, we realised he is dead, and officially at least, we still don’t know why he died. Because it was such a complicated method of dying that the medical staff here have not been able to figure anything out yet despite conducting a series of tests and an autopsy on his body.

Some people say he died of an overdose of sleeping pills – deliberately consumed or accidentally; some people say he had a cerebral stroke (doesn’t explain the puke and blood on the bathroom floor); some say he was bumped off by someone because of his links with some betting syndicate or another. No one seems to think that he just died. I don’t either, and the authorities’ dilly-dallying is only adding fuel to the other, more conspiratorial, arguments.

As for me, I would be most inclined to believe that he had a drink too many and had a few sleeping pills too many and got out. Whether he did this deliberately or accidentally, I don’t know. How could I? Or anyone else, for that matter.

Anyway, incidents such as these that have brought the world to a standstill have been keeping me busy, which has also meant that I have been able to precious little roaming around, shopping…and most importantly, stories. I have also not been able to get to St Kitts yet as was planned, and will only go there tomorrow, while my cameraperson lazes around at the beach there for one whole day.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Viv and the Useful Elevator

The highlight of the day was easily the rather bizarre conversation I had with Viv Richards in the hotel elevator. He is staying in the same hotel as I am, and I keep bumping into him. We’ve had some interesting conversations, though strictly off the record, because of his numerous tie-ups.

His voice is probably as fantastic as his batting was. It booms. It’s a like a lion’s general growl. And when he laughs, which he does a lot of (I would like to think he does it a lot when chatting with me, because I haven’t seen any of the other journos have that effect on him), it really sets the room (or elevator) shaking.

This evening, Viv was returning from the departmental store in the lobby with a pile of bottles in his hands, and while we were trying to get into the elevator, the doors closed. I reached for the button, while Viv made for the door, caught hold of them midway, refused to let go as the doors fought a valiant battle with him, and…well, Viv couldn’t beat the doors, and with the other elevator also reaching ground floor, we gave up battle.

The incident, of course, was the cue for a lot of pointless but fun banter inside the lift – and Herschelle Gibbs’ six sixes provided the perfect peg for a little chat, which ended with him making little or no sense.

Otherwise, it was a rather relaxed day, which ended on a semi-high because of a cocktail party arranged by the Pakistan team. None of the cricketers drank obviously, and neither did we (just a couple of drinks actually), but a good deal of fun was had because of an Irish band that was also invited over. These are four chappies who have made the trip courtesy Digicel – competitors of Cable & Wireless, one of the sponsors of the tournament. They played some strange-looking traditional Irish instruments – a flute, a drum-like percussion thing, a guitar and a mandolin-like string gadget. Talented chaps. Good music happened and came back to the hotel with a good feeling in the head.

PS: Food post tomorrow.

Friday, March 16, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Marley and Lara

The video I saw of Bob Marley's at his museum showed him juggling the ball - the ol' keepie-uppies - quite professionally. Football was his life, like it should be for any sensible person. But then, cut to today, and Brian Lara managed to put on quite a juggling show for us at the Chedwin Park, where the West Indian team was practicing.

At the end of the practice session, Lara went and picked up a white Kookaburra ball, proceeded to do a long session of keepie-uppies near the Chedwin Park boundary line, and seemed to get more and excited as we broke out in applause.

Now Lara's no Marley and Marley was no Lara. But there's something about the keepie-uppies that connect them. And it does explain a few things about them, doesn't it?

WORLD CUP DIARY: Attaining Nirvana

Went to the Bob Marley Museum yesterday.

First, a couple of observations:
- His house is on Hope Road. What else could the road be called, but Hope? For the record, it’s Number 56.
- The young Robert Nesta Marley looked a lot like the young Robert Zimmerman. Seriously!
- I know it’s stupid and melodramatic, but there’s something about 56 Hope Road that makes you want to sit down under the big trees and light up a joint. That, however, is true of most of Jamaica, so maybe it doesn’t count.

All right, it was an experience I am going to cherish forever. This was where Bob Marley lived. This is where he wrote all his songs. This is where he stood while changing the world.

The house itself is not accessible to cameras. Inside, you see piles and piles of newspaper articles about Robert Nesta and The Wailers and Rita Marley, Bob’s only legitimate wife. There’s also a lot of stuff about Bob’s singer sons Damian and Stephen. There are all the platinum and gold discs that Markey’s albums won. There are all the first edition record covers of his 11 albums. There are numerous photographs, of Bob the Smoker, Bob the Singer, Bob the Footballer, Bob the Family Man, Bob the Entertainer, Bob the Thinker, and Bob, the Bob Marley.

One of the more interesting things in the museum is an exact replica of the little store Marley ran before becoming the big man he eventually did. It’s about the size of an average Indian paan shop with a lot of scribbling on the wooden walls. Inside it is also kept the bicycle young Bob and Rita rode around Kingston selling records.

His bedroom is a veritable museum in itself. The small room has a zillion (well, 10 or 12 actually) different chillums – some of them pile-like, some of them vase-like, some of them normal chillum-like. It’s also, obviously, got stuff like Bob’s slippers, Bob’s pajamas and suchlike mundane stuff.

You are also treated to a lot of live recordings of the man – not just in concert (there’s a lot of that obviously), but also of Bob playing football, Bob fooling around with kids in his neighborhood, Bob speaking to journalists about life, about music…and about Jah.

Jah! Well, Jah is Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian emperor who the Rastas treat as their god. Bob was a Rasta. And there are many, many pictures and paintings and articles about Selassie scattered around the museum. And a lot of pictures of lions, the symbol of the Rasta man.

The only sour taste in the mouth comes in the form of the objects that associate Marley with Robert Mugabe. Mugabe had invited Marley and the Wailers to Zimbabwe and Bob’s contribution to the cause of the Black Man obviously made them associates to a common end. I don’t know where Marley would have stood if he had been alive today, but he certainly thought very, very highly of Mugabe – another Bob – and supported Mugabe’s fight. That obviously suggests that Marley’s foresight was a bit affected by all the ganja in his brain, but what the heck!

NOTE: Ajitha, Bob Marley was born on the 6th of February, Back in 1945. He died at 36 years of age.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Striped Pajamas and Ukrainian Tractors

Pakistan is 17 for 2 against West Indies and life looks worth living...nothing against Pakistan, but would hate to see the West Indians lose. And would hate to see Brian Lara lose.

Anyway, what a tour like this, with its numerous hours spent in flights and at airports, does is it provides a lot of time to read. Read a couple of absolutely marvellous books...

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas: John Boyne
This is what the blurb says:
Nine year-old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution or the Holocaust. He is oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country. All he knows is that he has been moved from a comfortable home in Berlin to a house in a desolate area where there is nothing to do and no-one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel, a boy who lives a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence and who, like the other people there, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas. Bruno's friendship with Shmuel will take him from innocence to revelation. And in exploring what he is unwittingly a part of, he will inevitably become subsumed by the terrible process.

In many senses, this is hugely unappetising, but the book's yards better.

It's wonderfully effortless. It's incredibly simple, written in almost childlike language, or at least in a Sue Townshend-ish language. The equations between all the characters - none of who are incidental to the plot - are fantastic, with the father, the mother, Maria the nanny, Gretel the Hopeless Case, Pavel the doctor-turned-cook, Schmuel, Liutenant Kotler, et al all playing key roles in confusing Bruno, our hero.

It's light and funny to start with, with the Fury (Fuhrer) starting off the chain of events that leads to Bruno growing up very, very suddenly but not quite grasping his growing up. All the way to Out-with (Auschwitz), where the key events of the book unfold. To the end where our hero - still not sure of what the rest of the novel is all about really - meets an end his father has designed.

It's seriously disconcerting, made even moreso because it's almost entirely seen from a nine-year-old's perspective. Compounded by the fact that while the nine-year-old is doing all the narrating, he is far, far away from understanding what the story is.

A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian: Marina Lewycka
"I had thought this story was going to be a knockabout farce, but now I see it is developing into a knockabout tragedy," is what Nadezhda (or Nadia) says sometime into this absolutely fantastic, incredibly funny book.

It's a simple enough story. Old man living off his meagre pension has just lost his wife, and wants to marry "Botticelli's Venus rising from waves. Golden hair. Charming eyes. Superior breasts," or Valentina. Whose logic in marrying the man double her age is simple: "A good life, with good job, good money, nice car, good education for son - must be Oxford-Cambridge, nothing less."

The farce descends into being a tragedy for the old man's scrapping daughters - Vera and Nadia, but turns out to be a fantastic tale on the whole.

And like Boyne's book, this is also written in rather simple language, except that the attempt to make the exchanges realistic - broken, grammatically incorrect, article-less English - Lewycka makes the same sort of mistake that a lot of Hindi filmmakers do when they try to get an offbeat dialect right. Or so I think. Lewycka is Ukrainian and an immigrant, so she might know better...

I have become a reviewer of fiction now, and Pakistan has reached 35 for 2 in the time it took me to write's looking iffy again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Watching the first match

Coming to the West Indies on work is a really bad idea. It’s a place where you should come with all your old cotton t-shirts (not ironed full-sleeve shirts), shorts (not jeans or trousers), floaters (not shoes or sneakers), and lots of time to just walk around, soak in the sun, hang around the beaches, drink beer and rum, eat good seafood…that sort of thing. A TV journalist should certainly not someone who should have to come to the Caribbean islands…time is of the essence.

But on the flipside, how many tourists in shorts and floaters actually manage to get into Sabina Park, get prime tickets, watch the 1975 and 1979 West Indian teams being felicitated and then get to see the first delivery of the 2007 World Cup? I guess it’s a fair trade-off in the end.

Umar Gul was the bowler on this occasion, Chris Gayle the batsman. It was a good length delivery on middle stump, and Gayle patted it to mid-wicket for a single. Now Gul to Gayle is a far cry from Andy Roberts to Sunil Gavaskar (Edgbaston, 1979) or Kapil Dev to David Boon (Chennai, 1987) as far as first deliveries of the World Cup go, but it’s good enough. Quite historic and all that, and I managed to get a good shot of it from the camera I bought here – it’s got zoom and stuff, so got quite close to the pitch.

Anyway, I’m writing this from Sabina Park now, and now that I have gushed and salivated about the experience, might as well get down to the less-satisfying part of the show:

Firstly, there’s no George Headley Stand anymore. I mean, sure, the stand’s still standing. But nowhere does it mention ‘George Headley Stand’ – it’s all covered by ICC banners. And, like Kunal Pradhan mentioned, the effect of the Stand standing out as the only proper structure in an otherwise single-tier stadium is totally finished. Now, Kunal’s been here before, I haven’t. But I do remember the George Headley Stand as a most imposing structure, and very non-West Indian when compared to the overall appearance of these grounds.

Secondly, and far more importantly, the Blue Mountains have been dynamited away. Huge stands have been built all around the Park now, and that’s blocked the view of the beautiful Blue Mountains. Those childhood images of the Blue Mountains in the background as a Test match is on at the Sabina Park have therefore not been matched by the view from the ground here. And that, more than the decimation of George Headley’s place in the sun, is really, really upsetting.

The match is still on…it’s 11.20 in Kingston right now, and Lara’s coming out to bat. Bye! Got to watch!

WORLD CUP DIARY: Kingston town, and meeting Sir Vivian

Met the king today. Interesting, because I have had the chance to meet him on many occasions in the past, but somehow not been able to. Have fun, sniggerers, but after he shook my hand, I couldn’t help catching hold of his hand with both my hands and babbling something or the other, which the king probably didn’t understand but found funny enough to explode with laughter. Believe me; I actually don’t know what I said.

Got a photograph taken with him as well, which shall be dutifully blown up once I get back home.

Prior to that, of course, we quit Montego Bay and our terrible hotel there (more on that in another post) and drove down to Kingston. We had flight tickets, but there was a spot of rescheduling there, and we chose to drive down instead. The rest of the tour has to be done by air, because we will be travelling from island to island. But with both Montego Bay and Kingston being in Jamaica, this made sense.

It was a three-hour drive. Rather nice, except that there was no huge difference between the drive and drives around the western Indian coast. Like the Konkan coast or a drive down the Kerala highways. Coconut trees, banana trees, and a lot of other trees I don’t recognise but have seen in various parts of India.

The big difference of course, was the sea, which was a constant presence to our left throughout the journey. Less than 100 metres away. And the fact that we stopped by at Discovery Bay, which is basically the point where the great discoverer Christopher Columbus arrived when he thought he was in India. Amazing, these discoverers. A lot like some of our freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, who, in the final analysis, only killed one ‘innocent’ Englishman. Innocent, of course, is relative here, but fact remains the guy who died wasn’t who anyone wanted to kill. But the New World was discovered, which wouldn’t have been the case unless Chris had reached in time, and then all the natives would have been safe to this day.

Spent a nice day in warm Jamaica after day, meeting former West Indies cricketers and checking out the refurbished Sabina Park. Also stopped by to see the Kensington Oval, where Pakistan and West Indies had their practice sessions. And finally, just to keep my cameraperson happy, rounded off the day with an Indian meal at Akbar

Sunday, March 11, 2007

WORLD CUP DIARY: Rasta-course in Montego Bay

It’s beautiful. It’s totally beautiful. Montego Bay is divided into Downtown, the Hip Strip and the suburbs. I’m staying on Hip Strip, and, well, while it’s not very hip or anything (the place really is like a touristy village), it’s really rather quaint in a Goan kind of way.

There’s a lot of music all around, and while the staff at the hotel I am staying in – The Gloucestershire – are particularly rude and pointless, absolutely everyone else is chatty and friendly and stuff. Very, very witty as well. And almost all of them, especially those great allies of the scribe-tribe – taxi drivers, just need a cue to start yakking away about everything you wanted or didn’t want to know about Montego Bay, Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbeans.

Got a nice crash course on the Rastafarians from Walter, for example. Rastas, to me, were the equivalent of the sixties hippies and not much more. I thought they were called Rastas in the same way that the flower children were called Hippies. Turns out Rasta is actually a religion. They have a god called Haile Selassie, who was actually an African king. Marijuana is actually illegal in Jamaica, but the Rastas smoke it as part of their ritual. Yellow-black-green is the symbol of a Rasta, and flags with the three stripes are to be found outside every Rasta home. “You see a flag like that, maan, you know a Rasta lives under it,” Walter explained.

Incidentally, the yellow stands for sunshine, the red for blood and the green for vegetation.

They have a lot of sex. Hardly ever marry. “They take women…a Rasta calls his girl his empress, maan.” They are also seriously against homosexuality, because sex to them is fun, not pain. [Yeah, yeah…but I am just trying to explain what a Rasta is all about!]

Anyway, away from the Rastas, a lot of other interesting things were observed. Prime among them the fact that Jamaicans are either incredibly fat or very thin.

Women – of all ages – are obese. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are black and some are mulatto. But almost all of them have massive bosoms, massive bellies, massive butts. All of them, however, are very colourfully dressed and therefore give the impression of not really being bothered about the way they look, which is really nice.

The men are fitter, trimmer, often very thin, and walk like they are actually moving to a beat of some sort that only he can hear.

The sea – the Caribbean Sea – was kind of sedate yesterday, but it looks rather choppy today. The days are warm, but nice. The evenings are bad, and best spent indoors unless you have a big group – major time prostitution, drug peddling, robberies…that sort of thing. Might go for a walk to the beach at some point during the day today.

WORLD CUP DIARY: Delhi-London-Montego Bay

Arrived in Montego Bay yesterday after some fantastic flying. Left New Delhi at 3.30am on the 9th of March. Reached London after about eight hours…around 11.00am London time. Didn’t get a chance to go around town despite having a visa, because we had to catch the connecting flight to Montego Bay.

The important observation from the time spent in London though is that I saw some more evidence of Tony Blair licking George Bush’s ass. Apparently, visitors are asked to even take off their shoes during security checks at American airports. Now, this was apparently not the case in London. But it is now.

[Bought three books, Ajitha, on discount sale. Including an Alexander McCall-Smith.]

Spending a bit of time at the Heathrow was interesting though, because it really is a bit like history, isn’t it? We know names of cities and stuff, but Heathrow has to be the only airport that practically everyone in the world knows of. It’s not a patch on Dubai or Kuala Lumpur as far as glitz goes. But it’s certainly fascinating in terms of colour. Human colour, that is. You actually have over 10 planes landing and taking off every hour, and people from absolutely everywhere in the world stops by at any given time.

Then on to Montego Bay after a four-hour wait at Heathrow. Now, it wasn’t really an eventful flight, but my first real experience of being with Caribbean people was rather memorable. For starters, the man (boy, really) sitting next to me was one of three people being sent back from a London prison after being hauled up for drug possession. I was informed of this at the check-in counter itself. Didn’t mind. And enjoyed the interaction with him afterwards. Was worried he might slip something into my jacket pocket though, but that didn’t happen. [I checked before getting off though].

But more importantly, the experience with the Carib people was wonderful. Everyone had a ‘H’ya doin’, maan’ for me. The air-hostesses – almost all of them plump middle-aged women – had a smile for everything you wanted, and kept the spirits going right through the 11-hour flight, ending with a fun five-minute exercise session that had the entire flight joining in with good humour. Every single person had something fun to say with their dreadlocks flying about. And almost all of them had fantastic amounts of the free booze on the flight.

Reached Montego Bay at night, and checked in at the hotel rather late, so not much was done thereafter.

Now on to the city…and all the work. Will keep posting.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Headed for Lara-land

It’s been a mad couple of weeks. In fact, it’s been a mad February and March has been madder still.

We had hardly shifted house and begun to settle in when the surgery happened. That put me out of action for a few days, and also had Ajitha in a bit of a tizzy, with her Time Out work getting hecticer and hecticer. Just prior to that, there were a couple of these 15-minute-notice trips for work…not bad, but unnecessarily hectic.

Following the operation, there were trips to Calcutta and Bombay. Not bad at all, if you think about it, considering that I could travel on office money to Calcutta for a couple of days before leaving for the West Indies. The weather hasn’t started getting as bad as it will eventually be. The food at home is as good as it ever was. The parents are doing well. All of Calcutta is seriously excited about Sourav Ganguly, and Dada is certainly adding fuel to the frenzy.

Bombay was good as well, and a lot of fun was had when the team left for the West Indies on the 28th of February. It was madness. Of the sort that I haven’t seen since the time the team left for their first tour of Pakistan back in 2003. Or was it 2002? 2003, I think. Madness. Absolute, undiluted madness. Bade Miyan still rules of course. And I paid my little homage to Him. Missed having food at Mahesh Lunch Home again. This is the fifth time I have planned a visit to MLH and failed to make it.

And if all the jet-setting wasn’t bad enough, the work in office is also getting madder.

It was also tax month. Mucked up on most counts, but eventually managed to get everything done. Have lost loads of money, but have done enough to ensure at least some of it comes back at some stage in the future.

And now, it’s Caribbean Calling. I’m quite sure I will find some time somewhere to catch a bit of reggae, a bit of rum, some beach-time, some whateverelseisonoffer in the middle of all the hectic – yes, that’s life – travelling between the islands – Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada, Guyana, Antigua, St Lucia, St Kitts & Nevis. Yup! Going to all these places. Places that have basically been cricket magazine names and ESPN postcards for all these years.

Should be fun. But did I mention that it’s a 53-day trip?!!