They just don't give up easily

Like devotees in a temple waiting for the deity to be revealed, the fans hovered around the business class section of the SA 285 flight, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Indian cricketers. By K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

As the South African Airlines’ SA 285 flight prepared to take off on a Monday morning (December 2) from Mumbai, the captain’s voice crackled through: “We welcome the Indian cricket team.” Suddenly there was a frisson of excitement as passengers dropped their in-flight magazines and craned their necks. “Hey, there is Yuvraj Singh,” an excited middle-aged man said while the southpaw was talking to his team-mates inside the business class section.

As the plane flew over the seas and into the African continent and the sun gradually emerged, the itch to sight the cricketers surfaced again. Two men gingerly walked towards the business class partition, gently parted the curtains and peered into the darkness reverentially. They were like devotees in a temple, waiting for the deity to be revealed amidst incense sticks and flickering flames. The players though were fast asleep and once the plane touched down at Johannesburg’s O. R. Tambo International Airport, they were whisked away.

The fans though could not be quelled and were present at Johannesburg’s Wanderers Stadium where M. S. Dhoni’s men (the squad for the ODI matches) trained without bothering about issues like jetlag. There was the gushing girl who accompanied her father and kept muttering, “he is so hot”, while gaping at Virat Kohli. Then there were the South African Indians of Gujarati origin, who were alert to take pictures with the Indian players. They also demanded to be let into the main arena! And there was a lone person from Chennai keen to know if Murali Vijay had arrived. He asked in Tamil: “Namma Murali Vijay vandacha? (Has our Murali Vijay come?).” Vijay and the other Test specialists had already landed but they were resting in their hotel rooms. The fan shrugged aside his disappointment and soon requested another player from Chennai, Ravichandran Ashwin, to pose for a photograph with him. Fans just don’t give up easily, do they?

Samosas anyone?

Indian cuisine has travelled the seas, evolved well and has been considerate to local taste buds that are not familiar with our spice quotient. While ‘chicken tikka masala’ rocks the United Kingdom, samosas, the favourite tea time snack in India, especially north of the Vindhyas, has found many takers in South Africa. It is part of the starters in many bars and restaurants and while the Indian team trained, in the adjacent road, a truck with the signage ‘samosas and pies’ trundled past. Talk about the East meeting the West!

The Christmas spirit

The Wanderers Club, a century old institution, is a throwback to the past. It is located close to the Wanderers Stadium and has the airs of an old castle with its brick and wooden facade. The stewards are genial and alert to your culinary needs and one morning, as a group of cricket writers from India tucked into their breakfast of breads, eggs and bacon, the waiter said: “It is ten o’clock.” He then paused and added: “Alcohol can be served now, any orders?”

The scribes wouldn’t mind a beer or any other tipple but that comes after a hard day’s work and not when the sun is still young and the light is bright. A ‘no’ was muttered and the bemused waiter implored: “It is December, holidays, Christmas, you got to be happy always.” The scribes wouldn’t budge though and instead settled for coffee, juices and hot chocolate. The drinks can wait for sundown. But December isn’t just about joy and Boxing Day Tests, it is also a month when the crime rate quadruples in South Africa as petty criminals try to make that extra money while the festive spirit spreads everywhere.

Dhoni, yet again!

In a span of five days, M. S. Dhoni addressed four press conferences! One in Mumbai before boarding the flight; the next one at the Sandton Sun Hotel in Johannesburg when he turned on his diplomatic charms and doused the flames over India’s shortened tour. “Maybe we could organise a game and let the administrators have a go at each other!,” he said. Another, a pre-match interaction before India took on South Africa in the opening one-dayer; And finally, the one after South Africa thrashed India by 141 runs. “Promise, next time I will send someone else,” has been his constant refrain but inevitably the Indian skipper bears the cross of media interactions, a burden that can weigh down a lesser mortal.

Madiba

For most of us, the post-Mahatma Gandhi generation, the living reference to him has been Nelson Mandela, the man who liberated South Africa from its racist stains and put it on the path towards reconciliation and progress. And when Mandela passed away on the night (Dec. 5) that the Proteas hammered the Indians in a one-day match at Johannesburg’s Wanderers Stadium, a few sports journalists went to the great man’s residence, the surroundings of which were awash with people owing allegiance to races, religions and nationalities of diverse strains. Songs were sung, words of respect and loss were uttered but amidst all these, a girl in a wheelchair, close to the flickering candles, drew attention. Draped in a South African flag, she sat silently. After an hour, she left, helped by her family. Her cheeks wet with tears, her eyes lost in a memory, and in all that swell of nostalgia, her silent grief stayed in the mind.