Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

APRIL 15: They acknowledge she is beautiful but not so beautiful as to be crowned Miss Guyana. There is controversy surrounding Mia Rahaman being crowned the most beautiful in the land. A walkout at the announcement by some of the patrons takes the sheen off her achievement.

Mia Rahaman, who has been crowned Miss Guyana, has stirred a controversy.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The venue, the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown, is not the same as the Bourda where Mia was the most sought after face. Cricket was forgotten as she went around the stands and drew appreciation for her grace.

Necks craned to catch a glimpse of her and she ends up signing more autographs than the cricketers. Her visit to the ladies stand is an event in itself. It almost creates a stampede as young girls try to get close to Mia. The older ones are not to be left behind and they too exercise their muscle power to push a few youngsters aside and hug the most beautiful woman in Guyana.

Mia is busy. She visits the members stand too and later picks the winner for the 10 million Guyanese dollar lottery. She is mobbed by the ground staff. She conquers the Bourda, quite an achievement because the stands reflect the varied culture of the populace.

April 16: Larry Gomes, the elegant left-hand batsman of yesteryear is at the Queens Park Oval. Even though he does not live anymore in Port-of-Spain, his popularity endures. The people, showing affection for the man, buy land for their affable hero, once a part of the great West Indian team which ruled the cricketing world under Clive Lloyd. Gomes has more surprise in store when his fans build a house and even furnish it lavishly.

Gomes contested the parliamentary elections but victory eluded him. That's when he decided to settle down in Toronto. Though far away from home, he does make it a point to fly down to watch Tests at the Queens Park Oval and catch up with fellow Trinidadians like Deryck Murray, Phil Simmons, Gus Logie and Keith Arthurton.

Gomes was also a handy off-spinner and his most cherished wicket was that of Sunil Gavaskar at the Ferozeshah Kotla. Sunny had scored his 29th Test century, equalling Don Bradman's record, and Gomes had him caught and bowled. The maestro played for the turn and was foxed. Gomes hardly spun the ball.

Gomes now spends a relaxed life in Toronto doing coaching assignments and once in a while dons the gear to knock a few runs.

April 17: The City Hall is agog. Everyone is excited and heading towards this famous building in the heart of the city. Kids outnumber the grown ups and we soon learn why. Brian Lara and three of his mates are expected at the City Hall for an autograph session,

The times are such that even in laid-back West Indies, securitymen are becoming more and more visible. Here Laxman and Tendulkar are provided security cover in Port-of-Spain as they come in for a break.-V.V. KRISHNAN

This exercise is part of the commitment the players have towards the official sponsor- Cable and Wireless. The contract requires the players to spend time in promoting the image of the West Indies Cricket Board on every island.

So Lara is at the City Hall in his hometown and the Mayor of Port- of-Spain, Mr. Murchison Brown, is among the enthusiastic fans. He is host to these cricketers and is a very delighted man as a big crowd turns up to meet the cricketers.

India skipper Sourav Ganguly also makes an appearance and the citizens of Port-of-Spain love his company even as Lara hogs the limelight. It is a very different Lara one sees at the City Hall.

Every kid is met with a big smile. "What's your name?" asks Lara as he writes a neat message on the poster. There is no jostling or pushing and the cops actually relax. "It's been very cool maan", says the officer. More than 1,000 people turn up in three hours and the cricketers don't even show any trace of tiring fingers.

The enthusiasm among the kids is infectious. The elders join the queue with all sorts of items, including birthday cards, hats, cricket bats and even currency. As I leave I ask the officer how many of his mates have joined the people in this autograph session. "No one maan, no one.

April 18: Once again I have to make this trip to the airlines office. I am redirected to another office. It takes a while to find the place but the trudge is worth the pain. "What can I do for you?" the gentleman welcomes me. "I am from India" ... I am not even allowed to complete the sentence. "Aap mujhse Hindi me baat kar sakte hain" (you may talk to me in Hindi) says the man behind the counter. He helps me even though he need not because the fault lies with the airlines for a faulty booking.

I learn during my conversation that he is Mohammad Naeem and hails from Karachi. It was only in 1972 that his family migrated from Calcutta. "I miss my friends in Calcutta. I want to meet them but twice I've been refused visa", he laments.

As for my request, Naeem quickly makes the necessary changes on a couple of flights and promises to follow it up. "Please do tell your people that a Pakistani was of a little help", he says with a smile.

Brian Lara, Mervyn Dillon, Marlon Black and Shivnarine Chanderpaul at the autograph-session organised by Cable and Wireless.-V. V. KRISHNAN

April 19: The Queens Park Oval is an unforgettable venue for the Indians. Two Test victories - in 1971 and 1976 - make this a special place. The spectators are very sporting too. Cricket at the Queens Park Oval is an experience in itself.

For the Indian media contingent it is like being at home. The Indian connection is very evident. The man at the gate welcomes you with a namaskaar. In the stands you get roti, daal and sabzi and some pickles to add to the spice. And the scorer is Rohit Balkisoon. He brings some Indian delicacy or the other on all the five days and has a good collection of Hindi music to share with us. The Queens Park Oval has maintained its identity as a fine mix of tradition and modernisation. It is the only cricket venue with a cycle track along the boundary. The cycling events are held at night.

The pitch, on the slow side, has not changed its character. The crowd has retained its identity. The only change is the electronic scoreboard. "Welcome signs of changes", says Rohit. The next modern step could be floodlights. The West Indies is scheduled to host the World Cup in 2007. The Queens Park Oval might well acquire a new look five years from now!

April 20: In India they get the vantage positions. In the name of security, they swarm the stadium and make life miserable for those who seek to watch the match in peace. But then the policemen in India literally take the law into their hands when doing duty at an international cricket match.

In complete contrast is the security at grounds overseas. In the Caribbean, five years ago, there was not much fuss about this security aspect. Times have changed and authorities in the West Indies have come to accept that they have to employ security, at least near the players area.

The threat to Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly is not being taken lightly. There are policemen surrounding the players and a cover is provided to the cricketers when they return at the end of the day's play. It is quite disturbing for the old timers to be denied access to their favourite cricketers but they accept the changes. "Can't take a chance", says the securityman politely and the spectator withdraws without making a fuss of it. And let me tell you these securitymen do not watch the match. They spend the day keeping an eye on the spectators.

April 21: This is the most happening stand, the most popular section at the Queens Park Oval - the Trini Posse Stand. It is the most vibrant section of the stadium and an object of envy of the rest of the ground.

There is music and fun in the Trini Posse Stand, which has come to be identified with cricket in the West Indies. Started a decade ago, it invites the young and old alike with one message for all - enjoy your cricket at the Oval.

What began as fun has now become a movement, a permanent feature of any sporting action at the Oval. The Trini Posse now has a stand for itself. And the regulars take pride in being part of a very sporting and lively gathering.

The Trini Posse brings in money for the men behind it but it is not just about swelling coffers. Part of the earnings are set aside for charity. It is a venture which has support in large numbers from all sections. The supporters come for a cause and not just for cricket, football or athletics.

The entry is 140 Trinidadian Dollars per person, but the package includes breakfast, lunch and an unlimited supply of beer. But mind you, there is a strict rule. If you misbehave you promptly get ejected from the place. So the audience swings, but minds its step.