An ordeal not worth narrating

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

MAY 6: Never walked four kilometres for bread. It is ten in the night and I rush to the nearby gas station to pick up bread. "All gone," informs the attendant. I ask him for a place where I can manage a loaf. "Down this road, walk four hundred yards and you reach a gas station. They might have some." I press him to check with that gas station. "They keep three for you," he says and I am off to pick a loaf of bread.

I walk four hundred yards, and a little more, but no trace of any gas station. There is no one to guide. I reach a station nevertheless - a police station. I ask the cop, who looks at me and points the finger up the hill. "Up the road. It's quite a walk though". I resume my walk.

The steep climb on the narrow road is hazardous too since there is no pavement. Cars flash by and for a moment I think of returning to the flat. "Just down the next bend", informs a lady and I am encouraged. After another half an hour, I am tired and look around for a taxi to return. It becomes a long wait. I continue my walk and a good 15 minutes or so later I reach the gas station.

A burly woman is at the counter. I look around but find no bread. When I ask her, she just smiles "All gone". No bread left for me despite she being told that I was on my way up to pick up a loaf.

I protest. "It's first come first serve", she remarks. I tell her of my long walk. "That's good for your fitness," she says. The trudge back to my flat is made easier as I manage to get a taxi. It is past midnight when I ring the bell of my flat. "Where's the bread"? asks my colleague V. V. Krishnan.

In no mood to narrate my ordeal, all I say is "all gone."

May 7: Colin Cumberbatch, a highly respected lensman in the Caribbean, is at the Antigua airport to receive us. He will not entertain any questions. "You're in my land. Leave everything to me", he says with a smile.

Cumberbatch has been around for quite a while, travelling with the West Indies to every cricket-playing nation. India remains his favourite destination because he simply loves shooting pictures of temples.

"On my last tour I visited this temple outside Chennai. It was fascinating to see those birds pluck out of the priest's palms. I got some great pictures. And the guy who drove me around for three days didn't charge a penny. All he wanted was autographs of the West Indian team", remembers Cumberbatch.

Cumberbatch has a cricket story to share with us. As a boy of 13 he was very keen to watch the Test against Pakistan at Georgetown but could not afford a ticket. So, he placed himself on a tree, giving him a vantage view of the match. Hanif Mohammed walked in and soon Charlie Griffith sent his stump cartwheeling. In the euphoria that followed the Pakistani's dismissal, Cumberbatch came crashing down the tree.

It bled and pained but he quickly tied a piece of cloth around the wound and was back to his position. He was perched precariously but it was cricket that engaged his attention. At the end of the day, he came down the tree and fainted. When he opened his eyes, he was on a hospital bed. His love for cricket became stronger that day.

Viv Richards and Curtly Ambrose are among his close friends and Cumberbatch commands respect in the cricketing fraternity in the Caribbean. A very helpful man, his friendship has been a big gain for us on this tour.

May 8: The weather is ideal for an outing at the beach. The Dickenson Bay is said to be the best known beach in Antigua. We have been here five years ago and can't resist another visit.

The Paradise Reef, one of the finest in the Caribbean, provides a great experience of snorkeling along the scenic coast of Antigua, the island which produced Viv Richards, one of the greatest batsmen in the history of cricket. The reef is about two miles, we are informed.

Water sport is very popular on this beach but there is a small gathering which attracts our attention. It is a wedding. Well, Heather and Jay, residents of Rhode Island, have chosen this enchanting island for the grand event. Ideal place for a wedding and ideal for honeymoon too!

May 9: The Indian cricketers turn up at the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG) to get a feel of the stadium, only to leave disappointed. They cannot train at the ARG. Strange, the team management does not even have information on where it can train and where it cannot. On the eve of the fourth Test, this is not a pleasant development.

The ARG is very centrally located, with some shopping malls thrown around. The one near the harbour provides lot of variety. We get special attention because of cricket. "You here for cricket. I'll give you another ten per cent discount", most shopkeepers throw the bait. Some of us are caught.

There are no cruise ships and it is off-season. Obviously, business is dull and most shops have the 'sale' signs on. But these sales are genuine and one can pick quality local stuff at quite reasonable rates. We make the most of it by bargaining.

May 10: Cricket is more than a game. It is an experience. And to enjoy the experience you have to sit in the Cavillier Stand at the Antigua Recreation Ground. It is a movement by a small group which aims at enlightening those who do not understand the game.

It is a stand which needs no security despite the fact that 90 per cent in the crowd drink the whole day. Close to thousand bottles of beer are consumed by the Cavillier members and some hundred rum bottles.

"Cricket becomes incidental because this is a group which enjoys music and dance. If you ask someone they will tell you India is batting. But please don't expect them to know the scores", says Damon Joseph, the man in charge of this vibrant movement.

The Cavillier Stand is one of its kind in the Caribbean. A ticket of $70 gives you access to unlimited supply of food and drinks and five shirts - one colour for each day. "It's quite reasonable and the response has grown every year", explains Joseph, who has also been invited to set up similar stands in Jamaica and St. Lucia.

The idea behind this movement is to get people to be interested in cricket. "Our membership is growing fast and in fact there were complaints that we need to have more than the 75 seats that we have now", remarks Joseph. By the 2007 World Cup, the Cavillier group plans to set up a stand of its own own at every venue in the Caribbean. "It'll be a great experience I promise you", says Joseph, directing a few fans to their marked seats.

May 11: Shabaash Laxman bhaiyya. Shabaash Ajay bhaiyya. The kid goes on for two full sessions. On the left of the press box, a big group of Indians, waving the tri-colour, matches the vociferous support to the West Indian team from all the corners of the Antigua Recreation Ground.

The Indian contingent is 100-strong, comprising families of doctors, mainly from Bangalore. In Antigua for three years now, they have waited long enough to catch a glimpse of the Indian cricketers.

"Not possible to get so close to them in India", gushes young Ananth as he waves the flag and cheers Laxman and Ratra. There is not a moment of respite for the kid and he breaks into a frenzy as Laxman reaches his century. It is a big moment for Laxman. And for Ananth and the rest too. The gentle Hyderabadi does not forget to acknowledge the support of the Indian contingent and waves his bat to them in gratitude.

May 12: You can't come to Antigua and not visit the Shirley Heights. Sunday night at the Shirley Heights is the most awaited event for the locals and tourists. In the hills and overlooking the harbour, it is a place which brings alive the spirit of the Caribbean.

As dusk envelopes the island, the Shirley Heights presents a fascinating picture of the harbour. The steel band now takes over and it is lively stuff for an hour. In the backdrop, the lights come on and it is time for Zanya and her troupe to hold the centrestage.

As the group belts out reggae, rock, soca and calypso, the gathering is intoxicated with the superb stuff.

At ten, the band switches off and in quick time the place is deserted. I congratulate Zanya for her performance and even as I wish her goodnight, she smiles. "Not yet, I have one more performance", she says. The band packs up, to report in two hours at Lashings for a party organised by Richie Richardson, the former West Indies captain. Zanya will wind up only around 4 in the morning. But Zanya does not mind, for she, like most West Indians, is a cricket freak.