Smile your way through life

From Singapore's bustling Changi Airport to the Brisbane International Airport, the passage is smooth and enjoyable.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

DECEMBER 1: From Singapore's bustling Changi Airport to the Brisbane International Airport, the passage is smooth and enjoyable. The hospitality is striking and once again underlines the fact that nothing works better than a smile. The policemen smile, the airport staff smile, fellow-passengers smile. The pleasant atmosphere helps you forget the fatigue of a long flight. The key lies in the smile. Now, `Smile' is not a word known to officials at the Indira Gandhi International Airport back home. So, a "Welcome" response to your "Thank You" is a bit of a shocker from the policeman who frisks me at the security checkpoint in Delhi. He smiles too. Unbelievable!

Volunteers sprucing up a bus stop at the Griffith University in Brisbane. The public transport system is top class in the Queensland capital. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

We arrive in Brisbane late in the evening, and as it happens always, cricket becomes the password for us for a breezy transition through immigration and customs. The officers are well-versed in cricket and give India a good chance in the series until the Boxing Day Test when Glenn McGrath is expected to return to the squad. "Convey our good wishes to your skipper," the young officer smiles as he hands me back the passport. The smile seems an integral part of his job.

December 2: A car is not a necessity even in a big city like Brisbane because the public transport system is in place. The buses are clean and the service punctual. The bus stops have monitors that provide you detailed information of the timings. It is not that the Aussies cannot maintain cars, but overflowing parking lots do not really encourage the citizens to indulge in this luxury. A bus ride is a pleasant experience. A trip to the city centre reflects the pride the citizens have in living in Brisbane. Compared to some other big cities, the streets and roads are clean. And there is no fear of being robbed either. One cannot say the same for many big cities in the world. It's also not bad for a city, which had its first settlement in 1824 as a penal colony for convicts. Brisbane is in the Sunshine State of Queensland where the attractions are the gold coast, wildlife, national parks... tourism is a big industry and run mostly by private companies. Brisbane is a lively city, but it is the 'Gabba which beckons us, giving little time for sightseeing. Cricket is what we are here for. The beaches and the parks can wait.

Physically challenged spectators have a special enclosure at the 'Gabba.— Pics. V. V. KRISHNAN-

December 3: Recently, at Gwalior and Faridabad back home, a conversation with Sanjay Manjrekar centred around the lack of facilities for spectators at most Indian venues. There is no comfort at any point, from the time you buy your ticket to the time you get to your seat on the match day. Of course, buying a ticket does not necessarily guarantee entry to the venue in India. It is so different worldwide. You are allotted a ticket with a seat number and at no point would it be occupied by anyone not authorised to do so. Special care is taken of disabled spectators. Behind the sightscreen, they sit in comfort in an area marked for them and they are served food and drinks in their seats. Watching cricket can be such a pleasure for the fans and the 'Gabba is as spectator-friendly as any other ground in the world, excepting India.

December 4: As one had expected, the 'Gabba, venue of the first Tied Test in the history of the game, is a wonderful place for cricket. It gives the spectator a fantastic view of the game. You can see the ball coming off the bat from such close quarters and the sound is such a joy. The spectators understand and appreciate good cricket and that is what stays in the mind even though rain deprives the fans of some engaging cricket. But the break from cricket is not wasted. There is entertainment for the spectators. There is music, dance and a small athletic event involving some of the promising young talent drawn from Queensland. The race evokes a cheer from the stands, a spontaneous response to a grand finish. The 'Gabba is lively, in keeping with the reputation of Brisbane and the Sunshine State of Queensland.

A running race during a rain-break keeps the spectators entertained. — Pics. V. V. KRISHNAN-

December 5: Dennis Lillee need not hail from Queensland to command a fan following. The great fast bowler from Western Australia continues to inspire the younger generation to strive for glory. His legendary aggression is a part of the Aussie cricket culture where a fast bowler is taught to destroy the opponent from quite an early age. We don't come across the legend himself, but a quartet of Lillee fans were dressed up like him and were aping his mannerisms to the last detail. They wear bands on their foreheads and the inimitable style of appeal, one hand on a knee and the other demanding a decision, is enacted to perfection. These Lillee fans are in great demand at the 'Gabba and wait for the day when the legend would descend and fulfil their passionate desire to meet one of the greatest cricketers in the history of the game.

December 6: One is tempted to see a bit of Brisbane. The serpentine Brisbane River has plenty of attraction. Dotted along the river side are cafes and restaurants that cater to different tastes. But we could not spot any to suit our palate even though Indian cuisine is quite popular here, as it is in many parts of the world. The river cruise is an enchanting experience. On the last visit, four years ago, Kapil Dev, as coach of the team, had organised a cruise for the team and the media. The restored wooden steamers are a big hit with the tourists. But the city centre is surprisingly without activity by evening. The food courts are the only places open on the Queen Street Mall, such a bustling place before 5 p.m. The streets are empty as we hail a cab to get back to the room.

Dennis Lille fans dress up like their hero and mimic his way of appealing. — Pic.V.V. KRISHNAN-

December 7: It is Sunday and it's dark, and cloudy. To be precise, it's very gloomy. The rain has slowed down the traffic and the motorway is clogged. It is tough to get taxis to the ground. I call for a cab, wait, and call again. "Should be there any minute," the voice at the other end assures me. It is 20 minutes and no sign of the taxi for three gentlemen to go to the 'Gabba. We begin to wonder if the taxi service could be relied upon. One of us comes up with an idea. One more call to the taxi station and this time the name given is "Sachin." Is that "Sachin?" the voice enquires. "Yes," says our friend, "Sachin Tendulkar, going to the 'Gabba." The voice once again assures, "Sure, the cab's on the way." And sure, the cab arrives in precisely two minutes, to take `Sachin Tendulkar' to the 'Gabba. We are relieved, but the cabbie is disappointed at missing the opportunity to take an autograph of the Indian master, who is as popular as any Australian cricketer. This time the assurance comes from us. "Pick us up after the day's play and collect your autograph." The cabbie smiles and promises a "complimentary" drop back to the hotel.