An English woman in India

Me and Jenny, my colleague at Cricinfo, free-meal-giver-outer and general banter-girl-in-chief, thought it’d be fun to document her travels in India. She’s out there at our Mumbai office, and I thought it would be cool for you lot to read. It’s rather long(!) so am splitting it over a couple of days. Mehhhhh, JT.

OK, so I love cricket. And I love the sun. And so to come to India and be pretty much guaranteed to get both has long been right up there on my Brilliant Things To Do List. But it couldn’t really be cricket everywhere could it? Well, yes, apparently it could. Within 12 hours of my midnight landing at a humid Mumbai airport – it was 25C and sweltering and I didn’t dare contemplate how hot it would be in the day, eek – I was playing cricket in a park with boys who I had only just met. They had stopped me to say “Hello” as I walking along the bustling, colourful street near my new home and I promptly followed them, Alice-style, into a wonderland of cricket match after cricket match.

Neither were they the first boys I had seen on that particular road, just a left turn from my own street. Does this happen everywhere? Across India are there streets and streets of boys with bats and balls? Ooh, hope so! Strolling about trying to get my bearings and a flavour for the area I watched, beguiled, as boy after boy carried stump after stump before disappearing somewhere I knew not where. Eventually curiosity got the better of me – it usually does – and, when the boys said “Hi” I knew I had my way in.

What I found was a mud-baked dusty area, the size of two football pitches, where informal games of cricket were taking place. Some were practising ahead of a game later. My group asked me to bowl – I couldn’t get my line or length, but that didn\’t stop a crowd instantly swarming round to see what was going on, and who this girl was. As I soon learned, everywhere I go I am a curiosity, because I am white and because I am female. But in my experience so far there\’s nothing sinister that underlies this interest; I’m just different.

I couldn\’t stop for long at the maidan because I had a lunch appointment and I didn’t know where I was going. And neither did any of the drivers of the autos, which are three-wheeler motorbike-style tuk-tuks, also known as ricks. These drivers wouldn\’t seem to have a hope of passing The Knowledge – in fact any knowledge would be a start, stopping as they do every two hundred metres or so to get directions – normally to continue straight down the road. But everyone asks for directions all day long, and people are only too keen to help. It\’s just a way of life.

But on this occasion I didn\’t need an auto anyway because one of the boys, Yogesh, offered to show me the way to work. OK, I thought, this should involve a short stroll. What it actually involved was a motorbike ride via the beach (where there was, needless to say, more cricket). Now, I\’d never been on a motorbike before; in fact, I\’d never done many of the things that I\’ve crammed into the first week of being here. "Are you scared of the traffic?" he asked, as he weaved in and out of autos, cars and people. There are so many people here, it\’s no wonder they spill out on to the streets and into the paths of traffic, who always seem to avoid them. But I\’m not scared. There is some kind of inexplicable order amid the chaos.

What I found was a mud-baked dusty area, the size of two football pitches, where informal games of cricket were taking place. Some were practising ahead of a game later. My group asked me to bowl – I couldn’t get my line or length, but that didn’t stop a crowd instantly swarming round to see what was going on, and who this girl was. As I soon learned, everywhere I go I am a curiosity, because I am white and because I am female. But in my experience so far there’s nothing sinister that underlies this interest; I’m just different.

I couldn’t stop for long at the maidan because I had a lunch appointment and I didn’t know where I was going. And neither did any of the drivers of the autos, which are three-wheeler motorbike-style tuk-tuks, also known as ricks. These drivers wouldn’t seem to have a hope of passing The Knowledge – in fact any knowledge would be a start, stopping as they do every two hundred metres or so to get directions – normally to continue straight down the road. But everyone asks for directions all day long, and people are only too keen to help. It’s just a way of life.

But on this occasion I didn’t need an auto anyway because one of the boys, Yogesh, offered to show me the way to work. OK, I thought, this should involve a short stroll. What it actually involved was a motorbike ride via the beach (where there was, needless to say, more cricket). Now, I’d never been on a motorbike before; in fact, I’d never done many of the things that I’ve crammed into the first week of being here. “Are you scared of the traffic?” he asked, as he weaved in and out of autos, cars and people. There are so many people here, it’s no wonder they spill out on to the streets and into the paths of traffic, who always seem to avoid them. But I’m not scared. There is some kind of inexplicable order amid the chaos.

I could have been scared of accepting a lift with a stranger, of course. But this was just the beginning of the adventure and how can you be scared of a 21-year-old who asks you out to dinner and promises to wear his best clothes, including his Nike trainers? Bless him. He dropped me off at lunch.

Office cricket

Then I found my workplace and had my first game of office cricket. It’s quite fierce and wholly relentless. Again I was no good and, being a competitive type, this was a little bit frustrating. But not to worry: I soon forgot my woes as we headed by auto to Bandra, through streets lined with slipper sellers and random elephants, to watch a play about Gandhi. It was sumptuous: colourful, authoritative and adorned by light touches of humour. Speeches before and after sandwiched the play, and the audience were thanked for coming – a rarety back home, but imbued in the friendly culture over here. It’s not second nature, it’s nature. (some of my colleagues would beg to differ but you can only speak as you find, right?)

Afterwards we dined al fresco which was bliss after a cold English winter. More outdoor activity next day – my first outdoor net of the summer. This was a net like no other. For a start it began at 7am … to avoid the maddening heat.

Part two continues tomorrow!

Comments are closed.