You cannot walk anywhere in this town without someone falling into step with you and firing the request twenty questions at you. Almost always it leads to ‘You come to government emporium. Is verrry good shopping!’ or, if you’re in Paharganj, ‘Why stay in Delhi – nothing to see? You take car to Rajasthan. I get you driver!’
They all profess to want to help you, but when you’re walking along with a destination in mind, shaking one off after another really slows you down. I’ve managed to figure out how to cut to the chase or at least make the conversation less uniform. I quickly tell them I have already booked and paid for a trip to Rajasthan (eyes flicker disappointment). Then I ask them about the upcoming cricket match between us and them. Eyes light up and they start holding forth on their favourite subject.
One guy I spoke to yesterday seemed a bit incredulous when I started asking him about the upcoming Boxing Day Test.
‘Women are not liking cricket!’ he said, laughing at me.
Undeterred I said, ‘Well, in Australia they do. You should take a look at the stands when you watch the Test. There will be women everywhere. Australian women love sport.’
‘Oh yeah, but they are just watching the men.’
Ah. Of course.
Another lad I met yesterday was telling me how Ricky Ponting is his most favourite player followed by Brett Lee. It’s times like this I curse my lack of currency in the game. I should have researched the latest players and matches before I came over. I used to be as fanatical as the best of them during the ’80s when Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar were in their prime (I even obtained my umpiring certificate) but mentioning those names here is about as impressive as saying you know who Don Bradman is. I also have to be careful I don’t mention a Pakistani player’s name as being an Indian. Ooh, that would be bad.
‘Yes Madam!’ A lovely Sikh gentleman informs me of the details I need, ‘4am is starting, 26 December, you can watch first session before breakfast.’
I have asked everyone what they think their chances are of beating the Aussies and they are surprisingly coy (or maybe too polite) to suggest they might do well.
‘What, even now Shane Warne and Glen McGrath are gone?’ I ask.
‘Ah, yes Madam, but there are more coming.’
Indeed. And we pay good money to make sure they do.
Walking down Rajpath I pass several games of cricket in action on the grass and marvel at how this originally elitist game introduced to the colony has been embraced by the masses. All you need is a plank and a ball. They have good precedents. The Don himself practiced with only a stump and a golf ball.
Later on I am ambling through the spacious boulevard of North Avenue near the Presidential Estate. Up ahead I see a guy apparently loitering around in a strange jittery manner. It is not till I hear the THWACK! That I realise he is fielding at deep mid-on for the game going on way across the other side of the avenue. Strangely for Delhi, it is a very quiet street. I’m glad to see it’s being put to good use.