It had long been a dream of mine to combine my love of cricket with India’s obsessive passion for the game, so when I discovered that the Aussies were to be touring the country at the same time as myself, I simply had to get my hands on some tickets. I linked up with a friend of a friend who proudly told me that he has attended an astounding 126 test matches over a thirteen year career. He has now turned his passion into a profession, organising tours that follow the Baggy Green around the globe. Believing that in this cricket-mad nation, the stadium would be bursting at the seams, I met him in the lobby of his luxurious hotel to pick up a match ticket in advance. I was flabbergasted then, when the next morning at the start of the days play, our small Aussie contingent made up about half of the spectators that occupied no more than 5% of the stadium.
On Day 2, cricketing god, Sachin Tendulkar, who is surely right up there in the pantheon alongside Ganesh and Hanuman, and just below Rama and Shiva, momentously became the highest run scorer of all time. Doing so on his home soil should have been an earth-shaking event. Instead, there was barely a murmur from the Australian supporters who respectfully clapped, the school kids who did not realise the gravity of the moment and the stern Punjabi police officers.
With a seeming scarcity of Aussie travelers in Southern Asia, I had been looking forward to catching up with several of my fellow countrymen and having the chance to speak ‘Australian’ again, rather than this rounded-off, mish-mash accent I put on for the sake of being understood by the locals and Europeans. However, to say that I struggled to make a connection with these hardcore sports fans would be an understatement. They seemed intent on imposing Australian ‘cricketing etiquette’ on India rather than enjoying Indian cricket in India and they did so using an aggression that came as a shock to me. Perhaps I have been away for too long and tolerant, malice-free Asia has sensitised me, but I can not believe that such aggression is so acceptable back home and acceptable as a first reaction.
“Put the fucking flag down when they’re bowling,” to an Indian flag bearer.
“Nah, fuck off,” to a chip-wallah whose asking price was too high.
“Put the fucking flag pole back,” to a spectator who had borrowed a pole, which was essentially a wooden stick, from our ample supply of spares.
“Why do all these fucking Chinamen have to sit up here?”
“Sit the fuck down!”
And my favourite; “Learn how to behave at the cricket!” Shouted repeatedly, pathetically and pleadingly by an old codger to a mob of Indians who in cheering us instead of the cricket were merely responding to our aggression, for aggression begets aggression and with a 500-run lead, they had plenty to cheer about.
What my stiff, elderly compatriot did not realise is that in a nation that thrives on chaos, there is no room for ‘etiquette.’ And what my weighty, Blacktown-based compatriot did not realise, is that these ‘Chinamen’ were sitting near us out of a welcoming curiosity and friendliness. Not to mention the fact that we had a monopoly over the only shaded area in the poorly-designed stadium, acquired each morning one and a half hours before play began, while the Indians (and myself) casually rolled in halfway through the first session.
On Day 3, I arrived to find that this area, with far more seats than our numbers warranted, had been cordoned off with a series of Australian flags – a barrage of abuse awaiting any non-white that dared enter. Late in the day, when the sun was at its fiercest, a friendly chap asked to sit in one of the five empty seats beside me. Preparing to shove aside, I was soon shouted down, “Nah mate, go sit somewhere else.” He instead opted to stand. Not long after, I hailed an ice cream-wallah, but did not have any small change to pay him, so someone helped me out. Here we were, getting up in arms over a wooden stick and a guy being made to stand beside a row of empty seats by my ‘mates’ was buying me an ice-cream.
There were a few fellas in the group though, who did not meticulously fill out their own scorebook, did not mind missing a few balls out of the several thousand to be bowled and did not treat the locals like lepers, but wished to embrace the spectacle of Indian cricket in India. One of these was a bloke from rural Victoria named Owen who had been planning and saving for this father-son trip for seven years. An absolute gem of a man who is accepting of everyone and takes life as it comes, moment by moment, he probably has little idea of the teachings of Buddha and has not meditated in the conventional sense a day in his life, but he is further along the path of liberation than any of us.
As the days went on, word must have got around Chandigargh that there was actually a test match going on because the stadium began to fill up with Indians who love nothing more than to watch their national team beat the number one side in the world. And beat us they did, handing the Aussies their biggest defeat in over a decade. Fortunately though, I did not fall prey to the strange sports fan phenomena whereby one’s sense of self worth is based on the performance of their sports team and I enjoyed a relaxing five days indulging in the simple pleasures of reading the paper in the sun while watching the cric.
I should have taken some of this excess relaxation and stored it in the tank, for it was to be very hard to come by over the following week. It began with the ride along the Grand Trunk Road to my first major Indian city – that which is arguably the most major of them all; Delhi.
Many people had advised me not to cycle India’s busiest road, but for the most part it was well-surfaced with wide shoulders separating me from the 2-3 lanes of traffic that rocked the eardrums, though it proved to be nothing that Rage Against the Machine at max volume could not handle.
Even more people had advised me not to cycle into India’s bustling capital, but as with Bangkok, I could not resist entering a city of over 10 million inhabitants without being totally exposed to all of its chaotic elements as only a bicycle allows. My entry was actually surprisingly smooth and I felt that my life was no more threatened than it would have been entering Sydney via Parramatta Road, though the stench was incomparable. As I cycled by the used laundry water-coloured canal, I just could not place it – somewhere between being trapped inside a McDonalds dumpster on a hot day, an Indian chicken truck after a thousand kilometre journey and a third world abattoir – actually, they all smell the same.
Equally surprising was that I actually did not mind the city. I enjoyed being back inside the concrete beast, smelling it’s awful though intoxicating breath and feeling its pulse of human energy. Such enjoyment was to prove to be short-lived – about a day in fact, before the smog, the pools of blood-red betel nut juice that were often spat at my feet, the constant sounds of rickshaws, cars, buses, dogs, salesmen and touts (though nothing Kool & The Gang at max volume could not handle), the endless throng of faceless bodies and the piles of assorted trash that had to be kicked out of one’s path, left me feeling suffocated and highly agitated. To make matters worse, I had arrived just prior to diwali; the ‘happiest’ festival on the Hindu calendar – happy because everyone gorges on sweets and the kids have a license to set off as many firecrackers as they can get their hands on, wherever they want, regardless of the proximity to crowds, vehicles and combustible materials.
As I sat in my dingy shoebox down a side alley with what sounded like a truckload of crackers going off right outside my window, I stewed, ‘This festival is not happy. This festival sucks.’ I had become the diwali grinch. I eventually convinced myself however, to venture into the war zone outside, just for a peek. As soon as I entered the street and saw the excited kids with their arsenal, my cloak of grinch-hood was cast aside – I had forgotten how much fun it is to make things go bang. I also discovered how all of the disfigured beggars throughout the country came to be the way they are; diwali. Combine really young kids, zero supervision and powerful explosives with ridiculously short fuses in an already chaotic environment and you have a sure recipe for lost limbs and fried skin. However, reports stated that there were only about 150 diwali-related fires in the city that night, which is apparently pretty good.
I found the real parties were in the back alleys where things got just that little bit looser. Some crackers sparkled, some fizzled, some sizzled and some just went fucking BANG!!!
It brought back distant memories of buying bungers from a teenage kid in the western suburbs who was driven to deals by his mum. Memories of Adam burning down half of Mum’s bedroom with one that he set off beside our leaky gas main. And not so distant memories of my 20th birthday.
Taking advantage of Mum’s absence while she was holidaying in the US, I decided to hold a bit of a bash that one could say got somewhat out of hand. Matt McFadden ripped out fence pailings, Whitey ate frozen meat pies because he ‘didn’t have time’ to heat them up, Gus did high-speed Colin McCrae laps of the block before a run in with the curb left his car hobbling like someone with one leg two inches shorter than the other and Red Dog, fresh from a trip to our nation’s capital, gave me a fair-sized rocket with the legendary words, ‘Thundering King’ printed along its shaft.
When the midnight hour arrived, I prepared a launch pad consisting of a few bricks to enable the rocket to stand upright in the middle of the backyard. This was to be my first mistake. My second was to disregard whoever suggested that we set it off at the nearby double soccer field-sized park, for at this stage, I was in no state to be making decisions regarding public safety.
The crowd gathered at a ‘safe’ distance. The fuse was lit. Anticipation was high. The Thundering King popped one metre into the air and fell back to earth. I waited one moment. Two moments. ‘Fizzer,’ I thought and began walking towards the unexploded ordnance. I should have waited three moments –
The shock waves hit me in the chest and sent me floundering backwards. After I and everyone else had recovered and established that there were no casualties, the laughter and drunken whooping began – what a rush! We all inspected the small, bare crater in the yard. What we were a lot slower to observe was the gaping hole in the rear window of the house. Chunks of brick and glass were found on the stove within, having split the two sections of my guests and been propelled at speed through the living room before slamming against the kitchen wall.
It was one of those incidents’ in one’s life that could have had far more severe consequences – more severe than paying O’Brien exorbitant Sunday rates to patch it before Mum returned – that could have altered it forever.