Friday, December 30, 2016

Cricket gives you what you give it


The idea of a result didn’t seem very promising as Australia began the morning of the fifth and final day of the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a lead of 22 runs against Pakistan. Although the morning on Friday (December 30) seemed bright and sunny, expecting the game to end in a draw, I had discarded the idea of going to the game.

Walking along the sidewalks of the picturesque, yet crowded sidewalk of Flinders Street, I caught a glimpse of a TV at a café that had the cricket on. Mitchell Starc was unbeaten on 52, captain Steve Smith on 131, Australia with 543 on the board and had a lead of exactly a 100 runs. As I stopped outside to watch the game for a few minutes, replays showed Sohail Khan putting down a sitter off Starc off Azhar Ali and I wondered how many more he would go onto score.

‘Yeah, a draw. Glad I didn’t turn up at the ground. I’m going to be productive.’

Settling into a café called The Journal located in the same building as the CAE (Centre for Adult Education) and the City Library, I checked the score and Australia’s lead was over 150 and Starc was still unbeaten. Not expecting them to declare anytime soon I got on with work and life.

***

As it turned out, Smith had decided to declare right after Starc and Nathan Lyon were dismissed in successive overs with a lead of 181 and wanting to have a crack at 
Pakistan 15 minutes before lunch. I discovered that only after Pakistan were 4 for 65.

‘Oh, no! What have I done? Pakistan are making a mess of this! Am I really going to miss this game being in the same city?!’

‘Get on with work…it’ll still be a draw!’- the alter ego argued.

A fellow journalist, who was to meet me then, arrived and asked me the score. “Oh, Azhar Ali has just fallen!” I exclaimed.

‘Terrible judgement! Should have been at the game! What was I thinking?’

“Do you want to go to the game?” He agreed willingly, saying that he wanted to ask me the same.

We took the closest tram whilst checking the score incessantly, following commentary of every ball on the Cricbuzz app, secretly hoping and praying a wicket doesn’t fall before we reach the MCG, which was about 10 minutes away.

Cricket Australia had opened the gates to the MCG, announcing on Twitter that entry was free for the final session. Over 2000 spectators made their way to the ground in an hour’s time after the declaration after a handful of spectators in the morning.

'29 overs to play… six down…I hope nothing dramatic happens until we get to the ground.’

We made our way into the ground and settled into the closest stand possible as Lyon and Jackson Bird were bowling from either end. Mohammad Amir and Sarfraz Ahmed were chipping away at the runs, albeit the Australian bowlers causing the batsmen some trouble. It was getting mighty close.

Quite a few spectators had come in by now. Everyone was anticipating a wicket every ball. That’s when Smith optimistically reviewed a decision off Amir. Not out. A ball later, however, an inside edge saw the bails flying and Amir had to depart for 11.

‘Seven down, three to go. What timing! Sarfraz is key here... 33 now for an innings win.’

Smith then got back his strike bowlers as Starc and Hazlewood operated from either ends.

‘Something’s going to happen.’

First over back from Starc: Ball 2, Edged and four; Ball 3, Sarfraz is beaten by a beauty; Ball 6, Bowled! Starc surprised Sarfraz with an inswinger and the ball snuck past the inside edge and crashed into the stumps. Sarfraz departed for 43, and you knew the game was almost over.

He returned in his next over to trouble Wahab Riaz. First two balls, two misses. Starc was on song. Ball five, wicket!  The ball reversed to crash into the top of offstump as Riaz departed for a duck. With Australia one wicket away, my camera turned into video mode as I wanted to capture the winning moment.

Every ball, I waited with bated breath. The crowd was behind the team now. Australia were one wicket away.

“It’s going to end this over,” I told my friend.

Starc delivered. Three wickets in three overs.

‘YES!’

Yasir Shah was looking for the flick, but got a leading edge instead, as the ball lobbed up towards mid on (and gave me enough time to record the moment), where Bird completed the catch comfortably as. The crowd erupted in cheers as Australia picked up a sensational victory by an innings and 18 runs, as Starc finished with four wickets.

It was the third instance this year that a team lost by an innings after scoring over 400 runs in the first innings, after England were beaten by India twice in December.

***

The fourth day of the Test was when I made my way to the ground after having been in Sydney for the first three days. I landed in Melbourne on the morning of Day 4, and had to attend the game despite my day having started at 3 am. It was the first game I watched from the stands in the last three years, and I enjoyed it way more than what I would have behind the glass cover of the press box.

It was, after all, my first-ever Boxing Day Test.

Attending a Boxing Day Test was always on my bucketlist. The hype around it, the MCG, the large turnout, some of the matches that have been played etched in memory and in some way, the end of a year and the start of a new one. All those mornings that I woke up at 4 am IST, just to ensure I didn’t miss the first ball of a Boxing Day Test, made sense now.

That was my moment of 2016. Cricket might be a funny game, but like the law of nature, it gives you what you give it.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Chasing sunsets across Bali, solo

Awaiting the departure of my flight to Bali from Kuala Lumpur, I was filled with apprehension for the first time since the second I had decided to undertake my first solo trip. 'What had I gotten myself into? Would I be able to manage by myself in a city where I know nobody? What if something happens?'...

That's the thing with negative thoughts; one breeds another rather quickly and without realising it it soon escalates to the magnitude of doomsday. A somnolent Spanish (as I found out eventually) girl, with a very bohemian vibe to her, then came and took the vacant seat beside me and asked about the departure time of the Bali flight. Perfect ice-breaker for conversation! It was her first time to Bali as well, but she was a solo traveller. She had been to a number of countries and had traversed a number of shores, yet she said she had crossed paths with very few Indian women travellers who were by themselves.

That got me thinking about the whole idea of 'being alone'. Most of us can't. Heck, I couldn't a few years ago. Then Bangalore happened. And that facilitated my living alone. That solitude is unparalleled, even liberating to a very large extent. That's the idea I bred of solo travel. But seldom things are how they seem. I needed to do this for myself to see what it was like. To make my own plans. To do nothing on days I wanted to do nothing. To push myself to do crazy things on days that I wanted to. To explore the unknown.

The idea had been swimming in my thoughts for years. Maybe I wasn't ready then. But I was now.

***

The descent had begun. We were about to finally land in Bali! I could see surfers, speed boats, surf boards, swimmers, but no land. Then a gorgeous white-sand beach came into view and we landed with a thud. I only realised then that the runway of the Ngurah Rai International Airport is just off the Bali sea.

The AirBnb space I had booked was in Seminyak, which Google Maps suggested was about a 30-minute drive. My hosts, Lola and Ziga (which were the names of their cats), were kind enough to arrange for a pick up although they were out of country. Yudha, the driver, was in fact, a tour operator. The rest of my stay in Bali was a breeze, thanks to him.

I didn't really have a plan of what I was going to do in the six nights and seven days I was going to be there. I made note of a few places I wanted to visit, but for most parts I had decided to play it by ear. The whole idea of the holiday was to take some time off the everyday humdrum. That is the point of a holiday, right? (The birthday was a only a valid excuse since we anyway make such a big deal of them.) So, with no plan in place, with a fair idea of places I wanted to visit, I was looking forward to the next seven days which were going to be an absolute revelation.

***


When I reached my 'home' for the next one week, it was pretty much as I imagined it to be. Small, but very picturesque! Picturesque, as I found out, was going to be a word I used more than just a few times in the course of my stay. That was also the first time I met Claudia. She was taking care of the house in the absence of my hosts Ana and Aljosa, but was a traveller herself. She was fit as a fiddle - that's the first thing I noticed about her. I would've thought she was about 35 or so, but given my general awry estimation of ages, I chose to ignore the voice in my head.

Every experience, for me, is about people. I'd like to think I'm quite a people's person. There's so much to learn from someone else's journey, and it has intrigued me beyond comprehension. Which is also why Claudia was such an important element in the larger scheme of things.

Over the course of that week, I found out Claudia was from Austria and taught psychology at a university back home. During her semester breaks, she travelled the world - to surf! That trip was her fifth time in Bali and she was as good as a local there. She ran, surfed, skied, hiked, and did all sorts of crazy outdoorsy things depending on the season and the time of the year. She lived by herself, loved her job, travelled whenever she could... yep, we had much in common. The only difference: she was enviously fit, and she was almost 12 years older than I was. That, got me thinking.

The last couple of years, I paid little attention to my health or body, for that matter. I did things on and off, but there was little commitment. Of course, the influx of alcohol did not help. Fat - something that eluded me for most of my life, was visible now. I wasn't the bundle of energy I used to be. My stamina had depleted. In a nutshell, I was feeling like crap. I wasn't in my ideal state of health.

When I thought of a solo trip and the time it would give me to reflect on various aspects of my life, this is what I had imagined. I wanted to have the time and space to be true to myself and address what needed change. In that aspect, Claudia's lifestyle at her age was the inspiration I was looking for. That was just  the start.

We bonded over various things over dinner most nights. She was fascinated with the growing western culture in India, our quirky ways, food and a lot more. I loved listening to the endless stories of her various adventures. My last night in Bali, we were lounging about a couple of couches at a beach-side restaurant for dinner and she said something that I'll hold very close to me for a long, long time. "You're a very brave girl, Kritika. I am so proud of you for having taken this trip alone. I haven't seen many Indian women travelling alone. It's a major step in your life and it will change this point on. You should be very proud of yourself and the courage you put together to come here all by yourself. By undertaking this trip, you have touched someone's life in a way you'd never know."

***


I was told Potato Head in Seminyak was a must-visit. I got dropped off to the fancy beach bar by Claudia, who was off to the beach for some meditation. I walked into a burst of blaring music. There was no place to even stand, let alone sit. People were making merry to no end. I walked to the rear of the bar that opened out to the beach and decided to stroll the beach instead. I walked aimlessly watching youngsters throng the string of beach bars, families building sand castles with their little ones, surfers making most of the waves and dogs going about their usual shenanigans. I decided then not to step into another one of the fancy beach bars for the rest of my stay. And I didn't.

Staying in Seminyak, which is a quieter area when compared to the jamboree that is Kuta, helped. I didn't bother visiting Kuta at all, and I don't think I missed much. Bali is all about the beaches and that's where I spent my time apart from their gorgeous temples and quaint streets. I watched six sunsets in as many evenings. If it counts for anything at all, the best sunset I was presented with was on my birthday at the Jimbaran beach. I had heard SO much about the sunsets the beach offers, that I had to pay it a visit, even if it was a bit out of my way. Claudia made that outing better by suggesting I visit Bingin beach, which is one of the lesser-known beaches with gorgeous views. The combination of Uluwatu, Bingin and Jimbaran was the best amalgam of the lot.

I visited a lot of temples, shopped quite a bit, walked miles on end, didn't find the need to use my iPod at all, made little conversation with others but had a constant dialogue on in my head between me and my alter-ego.

I had just two beers in seven days, and only because I wanted to try their local beer, Bintang. Of course, I took a lot of pictures and flooded my Instagram after I returned home every night latest by 10:30.

I loved the two-hour hike up Mount Batur, although the overcast morning was a bit of a killjoy that made sunrise a tough viewing. It also made me feel real shit about my fitness because there were moments I thought my heart would break through all the shackles holding it in place.

Given my fear of water, I decided to give scuba-diving a shot with the only idea of wanting to face my fear. And with nobody for support. I lasted a whole 10 minutes of the 30 before I had had enough. The dive instructor said we had gone 8 feet deep which was supposedly good, but said I should have stayed longer. Should have... but maybe another time, in another country and in another water body.

At other times, I got massages, wandered the streets of Seminyak aimlessly, was in awe in the arts of Ubud, read, ate to my heart's content, and couldn't help but notice how happy people in Bali seemed.

***


Eat, Pray, Love has sort of set the blueprint for someone visiting Bali, and skewed it for most others. Bali is not necessarily the place you will find love, or somewhere you have to visit fancy yoga retreats, meditate, see healers or anything such.

I asked Ketut, who drove me to the temples on my second day, about the movie and the healer with which he shared a name. He said the healer 'Ketut' got lucky to be featured in the film and was flooded with customers since the release of the film. He said Balinese healers are available aplenty and can tell you your future rather accurately. He even suggested taking me to one. But what he did mention was that the movie had done much to spur tourism in the country.

Something though, that was similar between the movie and my experience of Bali, was the depiction of the Balinese locals. They always wore a smile, irrespective of the time of the day. You're greeted with a smile when you walk into a store. When leaving, and of them say 'thank you' together, with a smile as wide as the distance between their ears. It was incredible, and not, at the same time! Not because it evoked a sense of guilt for not having bought anything at the store! But, you couldn't help but smile yourself and feel grateful at the same time. From my interaction with the locals, I gathered that they don't really have fancy, comfortable lives. They work hard, very hard in some cases, to earn their livings, but the feeling of gratitude seemed ubiquitous.

There's little point listing out places to see or what to do in Bali; Google has enough and more information on that. Travelling alone to Bali was not only about the island ornated with gorgeous beaches and skies. It was really about challenging closely-held notions, breaking some habits, finding inspiration, exploring my mind and fraternising with the unknown - a reward for once again trusting my instinct and acting on impulse.



Thursday, June 9, 2016

Caught on the same flight as Matthew Hayden and Virat Kohli

I was mentally prepared for one of the longer days of my life when I left my hotel in Raipur on May 23, 2016. I was scheduled to take a flight back to Bangalore, go home, pack, and take another flight that same evening to Delhi for the Indian Premier League play-offs. What I didn’t anticipate by a mile though, was the kind of experience that three-hour flight to Bangalore was about to provide.

When entering the airport, I pointed out to my friend that the Royal Challengers Bangalore’s manager was loitering around, to which he said, “Oh, shit! They might be travelling around the same time, which means, there’ll be chaos; I’m glad we came early.” I didn’t realise the weight of that statement unless much later.

We were in the check-in queue when Matthew Hayden walked into the airport. We waved at each other and he joined us the queue. Of course, on spotting him, the airline authorities summoned him to a separate line to speed-up his check-in formalities. We acquired our boarding passes and Hayden suggested we get some coffee at the restaurant/café on the first floor. We were passing security when one of the personnel asked his colleague “Who is that?’…to which the reply came, “Matthew Hayden, Australian cricketer.” The other guy retorted instantly, “What’s he doing here again? He was here just two days ago!” (All of this exchange in Hindi.)

Of course, on the way from the check-in queue to the restaurant, at least 15 people stopped him and asked him for a picture – all of which he was kind enough to oblige to at 8 a.m.! Stationing ourselves in a corner, we sat chatting about life, work and many random things before a contingent of security workforces walked towards us. It didn’t take me long to spot Virat Kohli, Shane Watson, AB de Villiers and a number of RCB players following them to the coffee shop.

Kohli and Watson came up to Hayden and exchanged pleasantries. Hayden introduced us briefly before the pair joined our table. Soon they were having a conversation that I wasn’t paying attention to because the sudden hustle and bustle around the airport was distracting.(What I did notice though, was that Kohli insisted and stressed on a no-sugar coffee, which is essentially what I need to start doing at some point, but haven't yet!)

Passengers who were groggily waiting to board the aircraft were suddenly interested in the middling coffee shop that they snubbed completely at the start. (I can make that assessment as it was empty when we walked in.) Children, who wanted pictures with their favourite stars, were haggling with the security guards. People clicked pictures from afar, while the waiters at the café, who were evidently thrilled to be on that morning shift, were out and about with their phones being oscillated as they tried to seek the apt position for seflies to catch the cricketers in the background.

Soon, it was time to board. The cricketers were of course, made to board first with the team occupying all of the middle rows. My friend and I were slotted different seats on the same row, so we thought we would ask someone if they could just switch seats to the other side. Obviously, the guy I asked refused, given that Kohli and de Villiers were seated in the row after. Not that it would make much of a difference to him, as RCB’s security guy was sitting alongside them with Chris Gayle, Watson and Chris Jordan to his right.  The security guy, however, overhead my request and was extremely kind to offer me his vacant seat in the next row, which was the one beside my friend. All settled in, we fell asleep within minutes, given that we were working until about 3:30 am the previous night and were up by 6 a.m. for our early flight.

Just as the plane landed, a passenger who was about to get off at Hyderabad, turned on his phone and made a sly attempt at taking a selfie with Kohli and AB in the background. What he didn’t realise, however, was that the seats were elevated enough to prevent that. Gradually, the angle was raised and obviously it wasn’t hard for the cricketers to spot it. Figuring out that this was just the start as the plane was coming to a halt, they put their heads down in the pretext of typing shoe laces, digging something out of their bags and such. The persistence of that passenger, though, was laudable, who at one point had his phone at a 90-degree angle – right above his head – before the security guy had to intervene and request him to stop.

If passengers thought it was their lucky day and they could meet their cricketing heroes, they were outrageously disappointed as no pictures or autographs were given – irrespective of age. That didn’t stop anyone from trying their luck, but in vain.

A young girl of around 22 or so, was quite in shock when she was refused an autograph when we landed in Bangalore, which was apparent, as she asked the security guy, “Are you serious?! I can’t get an autograph?” He flatly said, “No ma’am, please go on, you’re blocking the way.” She was so pissed off that she stormed off, but her fan-girl-self waited on the jet bridge as she was turned down again. All of the fanfare was predominantly for Kohli, and rightly so, given his exemplar IPL. 

But all of that was nothing compared to how the packed-to-the-brim airport went crazy when they found the team walk out. Dozens ran alongside the security guards to get a glimpse of their favourite stars. Few left their baggage belts and lined up to take videos, while others tried getting as many selfies in that moment as they could.

While we were waiting at our belt for our luggage, Hayden joined us and whilst he was showing me pictures of his backyard and his kids taking to cricket, a young chap walked up to us and asked him, “You’re Hayden, right?”, to which the reply came “no”, as he went back to our conversation as though there was no interruption. That chap burst out laughing and said, “I knew it was you. Can I have a selfie?” The heights of selfies was, however, when we were leaving the airport and a man was running alongside Hayden to get one and was finding it hard to fit him in the same frame. Hayden then took his phone, clicked one himself and handed the phone back. That would have easily been about 50 pictures or so in the span of about four hours.

It felt quite strange to witness all of that from such hands-on quarters. On one hand, whilst it is quite a privilege to be in a profession where you see, interact with them cricketers quite often, somewhere, it loses its sheen to the extent where the typical fan in you is quashed in a bid to be professional. Also coupled with the fact that you might, sometimes, just start taking it for granted. However, on the other hand, it is not hard to relate to the craze and enthusiasm of a typical admirer, as that was possibly, every single one of us a decade or two ago. 

It was brought to my notice earlier in the year when my cousin drove me to the airport and MS Dhoni got off from a Jaguar right ahead of us. Whilst it didn't even hit me enough to make note, my cousin went crazy exclaiming, "Hey, Dhoni! What a start to my year, that I got to see MS Dhoni while dropping you off!"  

When I was a massive supporter of Matthew Hayden back in the day, little did I imagine or know I would sit at a coffee table with him discussing life, our families or cricket a few years hence. But now, it's in a different capacity where your work is what has you connected. 

At some level that day, my respect for cricketers and how they handle fame went up a tad bit, with what I saw in the case of Hayden at least. It must be hard to oblige to requests patiently, smile and politely indulge in pleasantries irrespective of what you might be going through internally. I can’t tell how I’d react if I was in a similar situation, which is why they say, not everybody can handle fame. Yes, sure, it’s a privilege for them to be revered in the way they are at some level, but that said, it’s not easy being them either. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Silver linings



Bangladesh reinstated my faith in silver linings.

For starters, it reinforced the understanding that I have people who form a part of my extended family who care about me immensely - whether I see them once a year, not in years, or whatever. They were there for me, just like my family was and cared just as much. So much so, my mum could sleep peacefully in the knowledge that Alan and Nigel were there looking out for me despite not being there physically!!

Alan checked on me at least thrice a day, asking me updates as to when I would get my passport back and kept tab of everything I was doing to ensure I was okay. Nigel was in constant touch via email every single day making sure his friends in Dhaka were doing everything they could to help me out. I'm not sure how I would've made it without their love and support.

Second, having Saurabh and Niranjan there was a massive support. Both of them were fantastic helping me through all of it. I hadn't spent much time with Saurabh much before that, but that trip forged a new bond between us - one that transcended borders after as we had a fabulous time in Dubai after. As for Niru, he'll always be my go-to buddy - for a drink, a conversation or a rant session. Super grateful for them.

Third, strangers become great friends in times like these. Isam was one of those. He was always just a phone call away; always looking out for me. Having him as moral support meant heaps to me! (Need to thank Somani for that!) As was the case with Rizwan, Iftekhar and the others who were always there. It all meant truckloads and I will always remain eternally grateful to them.

Fourth, I made new friends. (Yes, I loved that bit!)

Five, I made the most of the chance of being there and was pretty proud with the way I handled the entire situation, having never experiencing anything like that. It only made me realise that when pushed to a wall, you do everything you can to get yourself out of it.. and do it right enough to be okay. And so I did.

It might not have been the ideal situation to have found myself in, but at the end of the day, there was quite a bit of learning in it - one that will serve as a reminder every day that there are people across the world who love. That's what really life is really about: creating these bonds that will last forever irrespective of time and space. I just feel really lucky.

The storm that was

The second I boarded the flight, I was asleep before even knowing it only being awoken before landing in Dhaka. The man I was sitting next to starting having a conversation with me as to why I was visiting Bangladesh, whether it was my first time etc. I told him I was a cricket journalist and was going to cover the Bangladesh Premier League...of course he was interested! We talked a bit of cricket. He was extremely kind to help me get a local sim card and even verified if the person who was there to receive me was actually from my hotel. While having to pay for my sim card, I realized that I had forgotten to exchange Rupees for any Taka and had no local currency on me. I tried withdrawing cash using the Forex card that my company had handed over to me, but to no avail. I exchanged the 800 Rupees I had in cash for some Taka and bought the sim. I claimed my baggage and it was time to say goodbye. However, before leaving he said: Don't go anywhere yourself. Don't leave your hotel alone or let the locals around know that you aren't from here. The locality you're put up at is pretty safe, but don't risk going anywhere alone. I paid attention, but honestly didn't know what to make of it; I'm hardly one to live a guarded life, especially given my many shenanigans in Bangalore.

My hotel taxi was waiting for me, but Saurabh and I decided to meet at the airport as his flight from Chittagong was arriving just then. On meeting him, I explained my trouble with the Forex card, so he gave me 2000 Taka to keep in case of any sort of emergency and said we’d figure how to withdraw money the following day. I didn’t know Rayad was part of the Barisal Bulls, on finding out which, I was quite glad as there was someone else I knew in Bangladesh. I had exchanged a couple of mails with Isam before heading to Bangladesh with another Saurabh, an ex-colleague putting us in touch. I called him as soon as I was on my way to the hotel. Alan asked me to call Rizwan as soon as I got to Dhaka and said that if I needed anything at all, he was the one I should get in touch with. I got to my hotel – Tropical Daisy, checked in, paid with the card which surprisingly was okay to swipe, after which I fell asleep almost immediately.

I called Rizwan first thing next morning. He said he had been expecting my call and invited me for a party for the sponsors that the Barisal Bulls were having that evening. Alan forgot to mention that he owned the franchise! Saurabh had told me way before that I had to make it for the party which was also a welcome party for Chris Gayle. I told Rizwan that I would be there around 7:30 that evening.

Nigel, just like Alan, had put me on to Nishat and Naushad as soon as he had heard I was travelling to Dhaka. Nishat came to see me that evening and we stepped out of the hotel to try and withdraw some cash. We went to the closest Standard Chartered ATM, but the transaction failed again. I called my colleague in Bangalore and asked him to check with the bank what the problem was. He called back and said that I had to reset the pin online and it would work then. We were walking around the Dhaka streets and it didn’t seem very different from India. Instead of walking back, we took a cycle rickshaw back to the hotel. I reset the password and we headed out once again to try and withdraw money. I went to two ATMs after, but the problem persisted. So we thought we’d get early dinner as I had skipped lunch and then she would drop me off to Saurabh’s hotel as that was on her way home. We got on to a cycle rickshaw and were in the lane parallel to the hotel when Roshan called. The call suddenly dropped. The next thing I know, two chaps on a bike came so close to the rickshaw that I thought they would hit us. I felt my bag fall off my shoulder and thought I had dropped it, but in a second’s time I realized what had happened. I saw the bike zoom past us and my bag in the pillion rider’s hands. The only thing that came to my mind was: Shit! My passport’s gone!

We were literally 50 metres from my hotel. As the timing of the incident would have it, I was out of credit on my phone. I hyperventilated, obviously! I was terrified, anxious, and angry – all at the same time and didn’t know what to do! I ran into the hotel and first called Saurabh. I told him what had happened and he said he was on his way. Luckily, GV, a colleague who was supposed to come along for the tournament but failed to get his visa on time, called just then to tell me what the bank guys said. I told him my bag was gone with my wallet, forex card, passport, etc. and that it needed to be blocked. The chaps at the hotel called the cops at the closest police station. They said they would come in five minutes, but no surprise they didn’t turn up. GV called back to tell me I had to block the card online, so I bolted to my room to do that, but realized my laptop was in my suitcase, the key to which was in my wallet. I tried calling Rohan in the meantime to see if he could block the card, but I couldn’t get through to him either. Someone from the hotel came in and broke open the lock. I was hoping the card wasn’t used until then and it wasn’t. I blocked the card.

I messaged Alan as soon as I had some time to breathe in peace and told him what had happened. He was thrown into a frenzy of rage and helplessness. He asked me to call Rizwan, adding that he would speak to him himself and to keep him posted whenever I could. Nigel went into a similar panic mode and shot out emails to his friends in Dhaka telling them of the situation and asking for them to help me out with whatever they could.

Never having been to a police station in my life, my first visit to one was in another country, lodging an FIR for my lost passport! The policemen didn’t seem surprised at all with the complaint. They didn’t speak English nor Hindi; only Bengali. I just felt really grateful to have Nishat along at that point as she could do all the explaining. I got my FIR copy and went to see Saurabh in a hotel taxi. (I didn’t use public transport after that day until I got to Bangalore!)

I called Isam and told him what had happened. First things first, he transferred some credit to my phone. He said he would come meet me the following day and then we could decide what to do next. He offered to host me for the rest of my stay in Dhaka, which I thought was extremely sweet of him and his family. I finally met Saurabh and he asked me to move into the hotel where they were staying. He said he would speak to his manager and get a room for the rate the team was getting it. I met Rizwan. He was just extremely sweet and concerned. He sorted my stay at their hotel so that he could keep an eye out adding that he would arrange for transport to and back from the stadium – which he did. Alan said I should stay around Rizwan so that he would ensure I was safe and taken care of. I felt slightly better after the long, stressful day, hoping that the party would serve as a welcome distraction. But, my head was only revolving around my passport and what I needed to do to get back home. 

But of course, there were silver linings. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The calm before the storm

I was hyperventilating all day before my departure for Bangladesh for some reason beyond comprehension. I had the sense of something being wrong and that nagging feeling just didn't leave me that entire day. I was strung out for most parts and the feeling only escalated as the time of my departure neared. I couldn't sleep that night.

Landing in Kolkata made me feel much better. I had never been to the city. Since it was my first time there, I wanted to absorb as much as I could in the knowledge that my time here was limited. Music muted, senses enhanced, the adventurer in me awoke.

The first thing I was hit by was the distinct scent of paan - something that I found is all around the city. I got on to a bus asking him if it would go to Park Street. He said something in Bengali that I couldn’t make head or tail of but he nodded, which was enough cue to hop on. I asked the girl beside me where I should be getting off. She suggested MG Road Metro Station and then asked me to take the rail to where I wanted to go. I liked the idea of having something else to check out after a bus ride, so I did.

That being India's first underground metro rail system came as little surprise given the stark difference between that and the one that I'm accustomed to in Bangalore. At first, I was taken aback by the crowd hustling in and out of the rail - that was packed to the brim - at that station. The crowd intimidated me. I thought it was a bad idea and tried to exit the station. Eventually I decided to go through with it. I got into a relatively emptier train that came along after a while. A friend had suggested I go to Edesia for brunch. I got off at Rabindra Sadan and began walking along the streets and was quite marvelled by the old-street charm that it was adorned with.

Walking past hordes of street hawkers catering to the many who depended on them for their breakfast, I didn't bother looking at Google maps for directions. Instead, I asked people in the good old way that it used to be done before the invention of smartphones. Around me were students scurrying to college, office-goers fighting a race against time to get to work, children being forced to go to school and some lovely looking food - which I regret not tasting in hindsight. (I thought I would on my way back from Bangladesh, which was a grave mistake as I never got the chance!)

On my way to the eatery, I stumbled upon St Joseph's Old Age Home. I ventured in and asked the matron if I could spend some time there; she was more than happy. I spent a couple of hours there, chatting with different people who were thrilled to have someone to talk to about life, their experiences and families. It was extremely satisfying and filled me up with loads of inspiration. If love is found in the most unexpected corners, so is inspiration.

After brunch, I headed towards Park Street where I was supposed to meet a friend. I strolled around the area more so to stay awake than kill time. I finally met her (for the first time!), we had some lovely steak at a local joint and a great time before I had to leave for the airport. Albeit being tired, I was thrilled with how my day had panned out; I loved travelling alone in a city that was alien to me.

If travelling alone for most parts in a city I had never visited was such a great experience, how different could Bangladesh be? I was all set for Bangladesh, or so I thought. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The memory of magic

Too beautiful not to share.

“You know, I do believe in magic. I was born and raised in a magic time, in a magic town, among magicians. Oh, most everybody else didn’t realize we lived in that web of magic, connected by silver filaments of chance and circumstance. But I knew it all along. When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present and into the future. You probably did too; you just don’t recall it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.

After you go so far away from it, though, you can’t really get it back. You can have seconds of it. Just seconds of knowing and remembering. When people get weepy at movies, it’s because in that dark theater the golden pool of magic is touched, just briefly. Then they come out into the hard sun of logic and reason again and it dries up, and they’re left feeling a little heartsad and not knowing why. When a song stirs a memory, when motes of dust turning in a shaft of light takes your attention from the world, when you listen to a train passing on a track at night in the distance and wonder where it might be going, you step beyond who you are and where you are. For the briefest of instants, you have stepped into the magic realm.

That’s what I believe.

The truth of life is that every year we get farther away from the essence that is born within us. We get shouldered with burdens, some of them good, some of them not so good. Things happen to us. Loved ones die. People get in wrecks and get crippled. People lose their way, for one reason or another. It’s not hard to do, in this world of crazy mazes. Life itself does its best to take that memory of magic away from us. You don’t know it’s happening until one day you feel you’ve lost something but you’re not sure what it is. It’s like smiling at a pretty girl and she calls you “sir.” It just happens.

These memories of who I was and where I lived are important to me. They make up a large part of who I’m going to be when my journey winds down. I need the memory of magic if I am ever going to conjure magic again. I need to know and remember, and I want to tell you.”

― Robert McCammon, Boy's Life