Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Sri Lankan odyssey - it's about the people

This is an extension to my previous post about my Sri Lankan odyssey. I think over the two weeks that I was in Sri Lanka, I was an abysmal tourist; I didn’t go sight-seeing one single day in Colombo, didn’t stretch my feet out in the sand at the beach – watching the sun go down – like I pictured myself before I headed there, didn’t really explore the historic semblance of the capital, didn’t do too much of shopping; nothing! I have no idea how time flew while I was there. What I did however, was tour Kandy, TWICE! (Ridiculous, I know!)

The driver who was guiding a friend and me along was giving us some good insight into the history of Kandy and Sri Lanka. Following are some random facts he happened to mention:
  • ·    Lord Mountbatten had established an elaborate headquarter in Kandy from where he operated for    quite some time.
  • ·         Kandy was also called ‘God’s paddyfield’.
  • ·         The oldest fire engine in Asia the G10 10 is in Kandy.
  • ·         Marco Polo said, ‘Sri Lanka is the window to the world.’
  • ·         Clove and pepper grow naturally in Sri Lanka because of the abundance of laterite soil.

I visited a tea plantation and was taken through the entire process of tea being manufactured; right from the plucking stage till the packing of tea powder. That was quite interesting. I particularly found the sorting really cool. For those interested, the stages in tea manufacturing are: plucking and collection, withering, rolling, fermentation, tea drying, fibre extraction, sorting (according to the leaf sizes), tea tasting and packing. The Broken Orange Pekoe is the most preferred tea that is made. Apparently, the finer the tea powder, the stronger is the flavour. 

I also went to a botanical garden which was absolutely beautiful and full of florae, but, we didn’t do much there, but walk for hours. The spice garden was passable; there were a few things I knew like Aloe Vera being good for the skin, otherwise I felt like a complete idiot. I also visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic, which was as beautiful, but quite similar to a lot of temples in India. I attended Kandy’s cultural show where we saw 9 different kinds of traditional Sri Lankan folk dances: Pooja dance, Panteru Natum, Cobra Dance, Mask Dance, Mayura Wannama, Raban Dance, Ves Dance and the Fire Dance, followed by some fire walking. I’ve always wondered how people walk on burning coal. Even after having watched it live, I have absolutely no clue. Insanity!

But the place I absolutely loved in Kandy was the Pallekele stadium. When I think of the stadium, the memory of me walking along the boundary line with the World T20 theme song playing comes to my mind. It was brilliant. However, I don’t have such fond memories at the Premadasa in Colombo – which is a shame.
Before I headed out, I wanted to visit the Ministry of Crab in Colombo, but couldn’t. The only place that I did visit which was in my list of must-visits was the Cricket Club Café in Colombo. I loved the memorabilia there from different periods in time. Someday in the future, I’d love to own a café like that. The food is great, so is the ambience; a must-visit when in Colombo. But like I said earlier, I was a terrible visitor and I have to go back to Sri Lanka someday in the future to visit the places I missed out on this time around.

What I did manage to do on my trip to Sri Lanka is however, meet some amazing people! There are way too many people who have contributed in their own way to make this trip very special for me, but a few made it one that would always be very close to my heart. Here are those few: Farhan – my fellow blogger – without whom my experience in Colombo wouldn’t have been half of what it has been; a great friend, my partner in crime, and a heaps of fun; John – who babysat me through my entire journey and took care of everything under the sun; Rob – who showed me how the commentary box functions, for the hilarious conversations we had over the two weeks, and who patiently kept up with me when we toured Kandy all day; Jamie – who was great fun to hang out with, apart from all the help he was in Kandy; Alan – for being one of the finest people I have ever met and having reinforced the belief that modesty is a fine quality; Christy – for that brilliant conversation over dinner one evening and giving me an insight into presenting; Gav – for his wonderful insight into direction and broadcast; Simon – for his amazing sense of humour, his interview and his legendary tip-off; Russel – for his fantastic interview along with the ‘best advice I’d ever receive’ and also for that fun-filled lunch with some fantastic people; KB – for being absolutely adorable and heaps of fun to watch the games with; Joe and John – for being wild and SO MUCH of fun and to know how to party; and lastly, Henry – who has been an amazing friend since and keeps the Sri Lankan dream alive!  I’m just really grateful to have met all of them and spent as much time as I did with them. It was an absolute pleasure and wouldn’t have been the same without any one of them. Thank you!

It is about the people at the end of the day, isn’t it? I did some crazy shit, made some great friends, heard new stories, understood different perspectives and smiled a lot more than all of that. That’s what made it all worth it. I’m just so glad I got such an opportunity that has been life-changing on various levels. It is one thing to believe in the magic of your dreams and another to live them… I’m on my way there.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Sri Lankan odyssey

February 2012

When I was in Bangalore for work, I receive a phone call from Meghana (my sister) who says, “Kits, let’s go to Sri Lanka in September for the WorldT20. We can go meet the Aussies, watch all the games and won’t it be really cool that we’re traveling to watch cricket?” Of course, it would be great to watch cricket in another country and watch the WorldT20 in a country that I’ve always been keen on visiting – Sri Lanka! But, the idea was crazy, and I brushed it aside.

Fast Forward to September 2012

I landed in Colombo around 11 but in my head, I was still in India. My phone gave way and I couldn’t use it to call someone who was supposed to receive me at the airport. I got out of the airport to find a phone and in the process was greeted by a jeering bunch of yobs. It still felt like I was in India. Frantically, I babbled away to a security guard asking him for a public telephone that I could make an international call with in HINDI! He stared at me, quite clueless, while I kept explaining my problem. He finally said, “Madam, English, please?” I then realized I was not in India. I had made an absolute fool of myself. That was how my Sri Lankan odyssey began.

I was headed to Kandy where I would be covering the games between England, West Indies, the home team Sri Lanka and New Zealand. We drove down from Colombo to Kandy which took us about 4 hours. Kandy, in contrast to Colombo was lush green; I hadn’t been surrounded by that much of greenery in a long time. We headed straight to the Pallekele stadium to attend England’s training session. The stadium is beautiful and quite different from the ones in India. I have always loved the concept of a lawn-seating-arrangement at stadiums; Pallekele had it.

Kandy was great; the cricket was even better – close games, super overs, Gangnam style dancing and a fantastic atmosphere. I got to witness – in the three days of cricket – what Sri Lankan fervour for the game is. The atmosphere at the grounds was wild; around-the-clock music (through both games), an array of colours in the stands, whacky outfits, maniacal fans and great entertainment. Not to forget, the Sri Lankans, who are extremely amicable and helpful people, who would often even go out of their way to make you feel at home - it was as good as it gets.

Not one day did I actually watch a complete game in Kandy; instead, I was witnessing the genius of various systems in operation. I visited the commentary box, the broadcast and media centers  the ICC office, the hospitality areas, player-dressing rooms, the third umpires lair, watched games from adjacent to the player dug-outs and learned heaps. I learned the different dimensions of organization and the meticulousness of detail required in planning and execution of a tournament of such magnitude.

Over the course of my stay in Sri Lanka, I met quite a few people – current and former cricketers, commentators, producers, directors, etc. I made new friends, socialized with people in and around the industry, people associated with the management and others. I was humbled by the self-effacing bearing and realized that by the end of the day, they want to and some even live like any one of us. We all came from different countries, different upbringing, have different opinions, but we shared the same love for the sport.

I met cricketers and quite a few of them; some of who are very different from the image they portray on the field and some, conflicting. My premeditated opinions about certain cricketers were proved wrong, while strengthened about a few. I wrote about things I never knew existed and pried into the unknown.  I was out of my comfort zone with nobody but a bunch of strangers; I loved it. I then was convinced - for me - meeting new people is an exciting endeavour. Everybody has a story which is different from mine and I loved knowing them. Sometimes I found similarities in the most forlorn places and thought to myself, ’hmm..maybe not so different after all.’ Everyone has dreams, ambitions, despairs and struggles; the only difference lies in the level of perseverance which ultimately is the difference in the outcome. I learned that through the tête-à-têtes I had with all these different people I met.

They usually say that you should only dream the possible, but who defines the possible? We do. I can vouch – not for the first time – that you make your dreams come true if you want them enough. Someone I met on this trip said to me one evening, ‘Sometimes in life you get experiences that make you sit and be thankful and smile.” This was one such experience for me for which I am grateful to MoneyGram; it has been life-changing. Thank you!