Durban is the land of Zulus

February 24. Little India is another name for Durban. The South Africans of Indian origin have a tradition to live up to and they have for generations maintained their links with the country of their forefathers.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Photographer Shaun Botterill poses with a snake, even as Andrew Caddick gets ready to shoot.-Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

February 24. Little India is another name for Durban. The South Africans of Indian origin have a tradition to live up to and they have for generations maintained their links with the country of their forefathers. Of course, there are thousands who yearn to visit India at least once. Durban is the land of Zulus.

Zulus, in traditional attire, welcome the cricket teams and officials. The hotel obviously is decked up for the occasion but what stands out is the Zulu touch. Dance and music liven up the atmosphere. The cricketers enjoy the hospitality and some of them try and pick up a few words of the language. Tough, but interesting.

February 25. The photographers have the tough task on the field. Sitting under the scorching sun, they capture the action, some brilliant, some dull. But they, like the umpires, can't afford to miss a ball. So, it is fair that the lensmen enjoy a cordial relationship with the players. In fact, a special relationship. Look at Andrew Caddick and his relationship with the photographers. The cameramen make a request to Caddick for a photo session, after he finishes his press conference. Caddick agrees first, then have a second thought when asked to pose. The lensmen drag Caddick to snake park and get ready for the action. But Caddick is not game. Instead he wants to change roles and the lensmen pose with a wide variety of snakes. With fear gone, later Caddick too obliges posing with snakes. As Caddick picks a snake of his choice, the cameramen click away with joy. Caddick makes a request that he would like to have a copy of this very special photo session.

February 26. The Kingsmead is in riot of colours. There is Barmy Army, and then the Bharat Army. And further, a Ram Army. All of them from England with a great passion for the game. Not far behind is the army of supporters who combine cricket and holiday. I run into Dinesh Shukla and his wife Ritima, who live in London and often travel to watch the Indian cricketers. A girl of Indian origin from the Durban Radio Station does an impromptu interview with Dinesh. "India will win the Cup,'' he declares. And, pray, why? "Saare jahan se accha Hindustan hamara,'' is his quick refrain. As we walk around the stands, Henry, with his murals, catches our attention. He draws the globe and has travelled widely and understandably is the most sought after by the fun loving cricket fans.

February 27. The hotel gives us the space to park the car. Finding space for parking your car can be difficult in Durban. Everyone seems to own a car, even though the public transport vans have picked up business for the past few years. But the people prefer to have their own cars because these vans, though they cost less for the travellers, are of high risk on the road. In two days, we come across three accidents and some have lost their lives. It is shattering. Youngsters do not mind working at car parks. It fetches them close to 100 rands (600 rupees) a day, that is not bad in a country where unemployment is on the rise, at an alarming rate. Our hotel parking is taken care by a couple. This area, despite being a tourist attraction, is noto<147,2,1>rious for crimes in daylight. The couple takes turn to keep a watch, but does not insist on payment for the job. The smile is always there, even if car owners do not pay. We give the couple much more than it expect.

February 28. We reach Johannesburg, ahead of India-Pakistan match. There is no time even to check in at the hotel as we rush from the airport to the private cricket ground owned by diamond merchant Nicky Openhiemer. It takes some effort to locate the ground. But some Pakistani scribes spend two hours to find the place. There are no `nets.' The scenic ground must be one of the prettiest cricket fields in the world. Every team visiting South Africa begins its assignment with a traditional tour opener in this ground. The ground is dotted with trees along the boundary and the pavilion is a beauty. Some rare cricket books attract the scribes. It is a fantastic collection by this cricket lover who is known to have hosted some of the greatest names in the game. Teams from all over the world have played in this ground that presents a stunning sight during a match, with colourful marquees adding to the beauty. A pity the host is not around this time, away on a European tour in his private jet.

March 1. The SuperSport Park in Centurion resembles a battlefield. The war cries in the stands give the India-Pakistan match a different connotation. It is indeed a challenge for the organisers. An effort is made at the start of the match with players from both the teams shaking hands to ease the tension in the stands and also back home. There are a few brawls in the stands and the errant spectators are evicted from the ground. The Indians win the match without any big incident on or off the field. The celebrations last long. The restaurants are full with Indian fans from all over the world and it is tough to find a table. We eventually manage one at the Sahibs, a very popular Indian restaurant in Sandton, the best address in Johannesburg. Sunil Shetty is also present and obviously is delighted at the result. He is a fan to the core, and a cricketer too. He plays every Sunday at the Police Gymkhana in Mumbai. "It's a lovely ground. And we have some good cricket over the weekends,'' he says. And what does he do? "I used to bowl quick but now I'm an off-spinner because of a shoulder injury,'' he smiles.

March 2. The busiest people in South Africa are the travel agents. It is Sunday but they work furiously, planning the itinerary for the media, officials and supporters. The Rennies Travel Agency is flooded with requests for hotel accommodation at the venues, where Super Sixes matches will be played. The official travel agency has a tough job, securing seats in the flights to Cape Town especially. Some enterprising fans do not mind road travel even if it means driving for more than ten hours. Some venues have only a few hotels available.

But alternate arrangements are made at private homes and guesthouses. "I can give you much better deals,'' promises a travel agent, who is now flooded with overwhelming requests for accommodation in guest houses.