A Prime Minister who mixes with the people

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

APRIL 22: The Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Mr. Patrick Manning, leaves the comforts of the club house and goes into the stands to spend time with the cricket fans at the Queens Park Oval.

Patrick Manning, the Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister, is greeted by spectators and offered a welcome drink in the Concrete Stand at the Queens Park Oval. To his left is the Sports Minister, Roger Boynes.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Imagine the Indian Prime Minister at the Ferozeshah Kotla, sitting in the stands with the common folk. Not possible. In fact, the regulars at sports meets in India often pray that the organisers keep the politicians away. For, the politicians come with hordes of securitymen and it can really be a nightmare if the chief guest happens to be some highly-placed dignitary.

When Mr. Manning walks into the Concrete Stand next to the press box, there is a flutter in the crowd. People stretch to shake hands with the PM and crack a joke or two. The PM has time to spare for them and settles down. Someone offers him coconut water. The PM does not mind. It is a warm day.

Mr. Manning is quite a regular at sports meets in his country. I have read of his recent resolve not to talk to the print media because he has been misquoted. Yet, I approach him. He is polite and greets me warmly on learning that I am from India.

The Pitons peaks, the Petit and Gros, with the town of Soufriere in the foreground.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The PM is accompanied by his Sports Minister, Mr. Roger Boynes, who does most of the talking. Obviously, the PM is not keen on a conversation. He restricts his comments to, "I can't really talk about cricket because I don't know much about the game in any case," and breaks into a laugh.

The Sports Minister explains that Mr. Manning is at the Oval to encourage the teams. "It's always nice to come to the Concrete Stand because this is where the soul of cricket resides. Cricket at the Oval is always exciting." It is not so when Mr. Manning visits as the Indians dictate on the field.

A lot of banter marks Mr. Manning's visit. As he leaves, there is a request for a television interview. The PM agrees and I can well understand. He cannot be misquoted on television.

April 23: The atmosphere at the Queens Park Oval is electric. The West Indian fans anticipate a victory. "Lara big player. He get them (runs)," announces an old fan, stopping me on my way to the press box. He thinks I am an Indian supporter. This man has watched cricket from the time the three Ws - Worrell, Weekes and Walcott - dominated the world scene. His confidence is understandable, but is misplaced in the current West Indian scenario.

The Drive-in volcano at Soufriere.-V. V. KRISHNAN

There is a small section of Indian supporters too. They sit tight, praying silently, but explode when Lara, the prince of Port of Spain, departs. Hooper joins Lara in the dressing room and the Indian supporters now have their say.

They take to the cycle track and break into a bhangra every time the West Indies suffers a setback to their dreams. The Indian tricolour now flutters proudly as fans pull it out of their bags. It is celebration time for the Indians, though none of them have watched the last triumph at the same venue 26 years ago.

A Test victory in the West Indies, a rare happening, means so much for the team, and for these fans, some of whom have travelled from the United States, it means the world. "It was worth coming here," says R. Srinivas of Chennai.

I wonder what the old man who had spoken to me feels now. His team, and the prince of Port of Spain, have let him down badly indeed.

April 24: Leaving the hotel at 1 in the morning to take the flight at 5 is indeed draining. No chance of sleep since we just plunge into work on returning from the ground. There is no choice for us too because this is the only flight available to St. Lucia. The one in the afternoon is overbooked.

We are at the airport even before the airline staff reports. But there is one distinguished early bird who beats us - Wesley Hall. He and his daughter are on the morning flight to Barbados.

Along with us is Jamaica-based Tony Becca, the Sports Editor of The Gleaner and a highly respected cricket writer. He introduces me to Hall, who is instantly hospitable, "How about a cup of coffee?"

We grab the offer but there is a problem. Coffee is available at the BIWA Club and only Hall has access to it, being a member. A lady politely informs us that only Hall and his daughter can be served. Hall is not amused. "I've friends from India. When I go, the Indians take care to make me comfortable. So please don't cause me embarrassment." The lady gets the message and we get our coffee. Thanks to this wonderful gesture by Hall, I forget my fatigue. I couldn't have started my day better.

April 25: St. Lucia is simply stunning. You rarely see this kind of natural beauty. The cricketers have earned an off and we have the day to ourselves. No fighting deadlines today and no chasing the captains for pre-match quotes. No one is even training.

We are lucky to run into Fitz Phillip, a very friendly and a very reasonable cabbie. He is a cricket freak and offers a bargain rate to drive us around this dainty island. No trips to crowded hotel-front beaches. He promises to show us some enchanting spots.

The first stop is the Diamond Botanical Gardens. It was inaugurated 19 years ago and its tropical beauty leaves you in a trance. The therapeutic mineral baths are a great attraction and the waterfall is a sight to behold. And then an old ridge path takes you on a captivating rain-forest trail. It is an experience, they say, no heritage lover would like to miss. To cap it all, the humming birds make it a pleasant experience.

Next we drive to the Pitons peaks, the Gros and Petit, and return after a brief halt at the harbour. The sunset, a glorious sight, is a reminder for us to call it a day.

April 26: The Grosislet is a town in itself. An area dominated by the fishing community, it has developed wonderfully over the years. When Stan and his English wife Susan extend an invitation to discover the place, we just cannot resist.

Deserted during the day, with the fishermen at sea, The Grosislet is a vibrant place after nine in the evening. There is music, dance, fish and chicken, and of course beer. And it is full of tourists, swinging to the Calypso and enjoying the Caribbean flavour. As the night advances, the atmosphere becomes electric.

The Cruise ship, Costa Atlantic, in the Casteries Bay in St. Lucia.-V. V. KRISHNAN

From what began a few years ago as an evening for the fishermen to come together, the place has grown into a fascinating spot for the tourists. It has now become a National Friday Event, a place well worth visiting.

April 27: We cannot miss the Drive-in volcano and so start early. It is the only one of its kind with sulphur springs, said to be the result of a crater. The bubbling water, and the steam, a continuing process, indicates the fact that this volcano is dormant. The pressure is said to be released by the sulphur springs and that essentially arrests an eruption, the last one happening in 1780. The water from the hot springs has medicinal value they say. We take a trip down to feel the temperature. "You can bathe if you want to," quips the guide. The place is a great tourist attraction. "Sixty buses came yesterday," the guide continues. She is expecting another 60 today at the world's only drive-in volcano.

April 28: The bronze sculpture of a man tenderly holding a lady in his arms, in the heart of the city, reflects the romantic nature of St. Lucia. It is a favourite destination for honeymooners, especially from Canada and the United States.

Jazz festivals are part of the culture with some of the stars making an annual appearance in St. Lucia. All kinds of tourists visit St. Lucia, especially lovers of nature, and life moves at a slow pace. So does the traffic where people are only too happy to give others the right of way. Honking is only a means of greeting other drivers. The taximen do it to attract customers.

It is not a place for work. It is very quiet, lush and green and it seems as if we are the only ones working in St. Lucia. The rest are all on a holiday.