Shakib, Shakib and more Shakib!

Rain played spoilsport in the one-off India-Bangladesh Test.-AP

Y. B. Sarangi, covering India’s cricket tour of Bangladesh, shares with us slices of Dhaka life that he finds interesting as well as intriguing.

8-6-15: From the top, as the plane descends on Dhaka and prepares to land, the city looks to be full of life. The greenery, the water bodies and the life around — nothing misses the eyes.

On the ground, the juxtaposition of tradition and modernity is unmistakable. As I proceed to immigration, the airport with a vintage look but modern facilities strikes me. The official at the immigration desk raises his eyebrows seeing the ‘Journalist’ visa, but his colleague calms him: “He is here to cover sports (read cricket) only.”

The cricket fan inside the immigration official wakes up. “India-Bangladesh match, an acid test,” he remarks. I am left with no choice except to nod.

However, I tell a truth to make the air a bit more friendly. “India last played a Test six months ago and Bangladesh has got some solid batsmen,” I say. The official has an expert comment to make. “A very strong team,” he says, while stamping my passport.

Life outside the airport is a rat race. Thousands of people, in rickety buses, on speeding bikes and in swanky reconditioned cars, give the best exhibition of speed despite the long and never-ending traffic snarls all over the city. The ever-honking vehicles and the talkative people riding them perhaps give the city its life that is so unique despite seeming commonplace.

9-6-15: Reaching the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatullah is nothing less than an expedition, especially when you do not know the route. When I and a fellow journalist shared a CNG-powered autorickshaw with a mesh around it (to prevent snatching and mugging), little did we know that the distance of 20km would test our patience thoroughly. The autorickshaw went through posh localities, clumsy market places, stretches of smelly areas, dusty industrial belts and quaint villages before reaching our destination.

The muggy weather made things worse. Under the piercing sun, drenched in sweat, I along with several others of my profession had to stay put to watch the Bangladesh and Indian teams’ practice sessions ahead of the one-off Test.

For someone who is so used to an intimidating police presence and umpteen number of do’s and don’ts in sporting arenas back home, it was a pleasant variation. There was no one to check my accreditation card and stop me from going anywhere.

The local journalists were present in huge numbers, but the organisers were cool. There was no restriction, yet they were well-behaved. Access to players and officials was not an issue. I was amazed to see so many people inside the playing arena on the eve of a Test match! But everybody knew his limits and none tried to venture towards the pitch. It was like a big family and I was happy to be a part of it.

10-6-15: I could not help but admire the spirit of the Fatullah crowd. Even though spectators were not present in large numbers and many seats in the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium lay vacant on the opening day of the Test match between India and Bangladesh, the spirit of those who made it to the venue was amazing.

Even after a heavy downpour dispersed the crowd from the galleries, I was glad to see almost the entire lot returning to the stands after a four-hour rain interruption in play. They were also ready to applaud even a small good show by the home team players.

Some, dressed in tiger suits and waving the national flag of the country, braved the rain and enjoyed the atmosphere despite getting completely wet. After all, Test cricket had returned to the stadium after nine years!

Sadly, their happiness was dampened as Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay posted an unbroken 239-run stand for the opening wicket. The fans’ effort to bring in Bangladeshi flags and banners inside the stadium to cheer their team bore no fruit.

But these were devoted fans and they did not lose heart. Some of them vowed to come to the stadium on all the five days in order to root for their team.

11-6-15: Shakib Al Hasan is currently the greatest Bangladeshi sporting hero. One finds this smiling all-rounder endorsing different products on various billboards across Dhaka.

A local journalist shared his own story with me while explaining the impact of Shakib. “As a kid when I went to practise with my club everyday, my father would get angry and tell my mother, ‘Why is he wasting time?’ Now, after Shakib’s rise, my father has no problem in sending my younger brother to play cricket.”

Another fellow scribe told me why Shakib is a phenomenon in Bangladesh. “People started admiring him when he broke through to become the No. 1 all-rounder in the world in 2009. Till then, no Bangladeshi had become No. 1 in the world in any field. Besides, he also performed consistently.

“Today he is the biggest celebrity in the country, not just in cricket. And endorses around 20 brands, including several leading ones. Companies are queueing up to sign him. When one top telecom company signed several top cricketers, its rival answered by roping in Shakib. When his endorsement contract with one ice cream company came to an end, another jumped forward with an even more lucrative offer!”

12-6-15: They love him, they hate him. But they can’t ignore him.

Bangladeshi cricket fans are obsessed about Indian Test captain Virat Kohli. Some of them, especially the younger generation, are great fans of the Delhi boy who wears aggression on his sleeves. They love Kohli’s intensity on the field and like his batting style. “I like him for the way he dominates the bowlers and plays his shots,” said a Class IX student.

But there are others who hate Kohli to the hilt. “People here don’t like him much because of his aggression. They don’t like Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja also. These guys are too aggressive and celebrate very loudly after taking a catch or a wicket,” said another youngster.

One could witness the crowd’s reaction when Dhawan or Kohli entered the ground to bat with the decibel level suddenly going up for a while. But for one who knows these cricketers a little bit, they are just simple human beings who fight hard on the field and play to entertain the crowd.

13-6-15: There is a big craze for the Indian entertainment industry in Bangladesh. People stay updated about the latest Hindi films and songs released in the market. In several shops I witnessed big sound boxes blaring out all the hit songs sung by Kumar Sanu in the 1990s. Several temporary stalls on the footpath sold audio and video CDs of Hindi films and there seemed to be a good demand for these products.

It is a different matter that Pakistani songs and Chinese movies also attract some attention here. But the craze for Hindi medium entertainment is unmatched. Switch on any television anywhere and you will feel as if you are in India. The cable shows all the top Hindi entertainment, movie and news channels, apart from several Indian Bengali channels.

I saw people humming Hindi film songs and processions playing Yo Yo Honey Singh numbers. I also noticed people watching videos of these songs on their mobile phones while taking the public transport amid the eternally bumper-to-bumper traffic of highly-populated Dhaka.

But the biggest irony is that when you try to converse with the local people in Hindi, they hardly understand anything!