Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Settling down Down Under

Interestingly, one of the biggest items on the agenda for the next Parliamentary elections in Australia is the spread of the Internet. Interesting, isn’t it, seeing that the www would ordinarily be such a given in the developed part of the world? But that’s how it is. Yes, offices might have good connections and people who need to surf the Net at home might have decent connections. But for people like us TV journalists and many other people who need strong connections to upload heavy files as part of their day-to-day work, Australia is very, very Down Under.

And what the lack of good Internet connections, coupled with a few mess-ups back home in office, has done is that it’s forced me to spend most of my time cooped up in my hotel room/s or Internet centres. The first leg of the Melbourne trip, therefore, wasn’t worth much in terms of catching the big tourist attractions. Ditto with the only four days I might get in Brisbane (will get a few more if India make it to the final).

But things have improved in office, and I have got a great Internet connection in the hotel in Melbourne that we are staying in now. Hallelujah!


Now then, nothing’s changed as far as my perception of the Aussies is concerned. They remain wonderful people. Most helpful. Very inquisitive. And I’ve even met a few taxi drivers who were quite clued in about India. To the extent that one of them rattled off “Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, etc” when I told him I don’t speak Hindi, but Bengali.

The first few days in Melbourne were spent well, primarily because the hotel we got – and a beautiful apartment in it – was a minute’s walk from the MCG. Maybe a minute-and-a-half. And the MCG is, in fact, a stone’s throw away from Melbourne Park, the new venue for the Australian Open.

And you approach this area by a footbridge – a pretty, wood-and-concrete-and-metal walkway along the right bank of the Yarra River connecting Flinders Street (the city centre) to the MCG-Melbourne Park area – it’s one of the most breathtaking sights that you can imagine human beings could have built. It’s stunning. The river adds to the imagery. The tall, imposing buildings in the background create an aura. And the silence because of the lack of vehicles makes it all that much more exciting.
And then of course, there’s the MCG. Smaller than Eden Gardens in terms of spectator capacity. But bigger in terms of gallery space, because each spectator has a full chair to place his ass in, unlike Eden, where you get approximately 12 inches of chipped concrete to sit on.

Now, while I’m not knocking Eden as a cricket venue (I don’t want to either, seeing that I think the ground itself there is prettier), the MCG is as fantastic a spectator-interest stadium as can be.

Before you enter the ground itself, there’s the Parade of Champions – nicely made life-size sculptures of Aussie sporting greats from the world of cricket, rugby, Aussie Rules, athletics, etc. Inside as well, as you pass the brightly lit modern corridors, you’ve got huge posters of Aussie cricket legends, loads of memorabilia, sepia-tinted pictures, the works…
The ground itself is also spectacular (not as pretty as Eden). It’s a great mix of modern and traditional, and that’d probably what makes it what it is. And the size of the green, of course.


All of Melbourne, in fact, is a mix of the traditional and the modern. And almost every step I take there reminds me of Calcutta in a strange way. Narrow streets, not-too-wide main roads and intersections, old and slightly cramped buildings…. And the trams. Obviously, all of Australia has a lot of space. Its mind-bogglingly low population density is legend after all. But somehow, Melbourne has a cramped appearance to it.

If Calcutta had been cared for, it would have looked exactly like Melbourne.


Spent a few days in Brisbane as well, but it’s not a city I took to particularly well. The high point was touching base with old friend Surojit, who has got the most annoying accent now. He’s still pretty much the same and is doing rather well with an Aussie corporate set-up, and has a found a most wonderful partner to be with – Christie.
But the city itself has nothing much to offer. A sensation heightened by the fact that all the four days that I was there were drenched with rain. Both the matches had to be called off…but again, spending time at the ’Gabba was special in its own way.


Now I’m back in beautiful Melbourne…more posts to follow…. And I forgot to mention that I did have some kangaroo meat and some crocodile meat before leaving for Brisbane. Plus some scallops, which aren’t very mentionworthy. Now for the ostriches, emus, wallabies and possums.