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The Roller Coaster Continues..

* Can I take a picture with you please??? : The Caribbean as most of you’d know is basically a holiday spot with tourists pouring from all over the world to have a good time in the sun and sand. In one of the places where we stayed, there were hordes of English tourists…I treat them separately from the others mainly because they knew about Cricket though not much about Cricketers.
They knew that the Indian and the West Indies Cricket teams were put up in the same resort.
While Bhajji and me, were, one evening casually strolling around the restaurant area, we spotted Lara standing over at the bar.
Both of us, quite independently, felt like going over to have a chat. Now even I knew Brian Lara and he used to wave out whenever we crossed paths..I was beaming now. We went over and exchanged pleasantries..he was talking about how we had just missed the fire-entertainment show by one of the local acrobats there.
The show was over and people were casually moving around to help themselves. At this time we could notice a particular group observing and pointing out to us. We felt good that maybe some people had ‘recognized’ us after all ;-)
One of the couples whom I assumed had got married that evening walked up to us and introduced themselves . Some John and Marie.. They were talking to Bhajji and me.
They said that it was great meeting cricketers from India, they had ‘heard’ so much about us !! Lara was merely standing by the side, being a mute spectator. Just then, the lady politely asked us in typical Brit manner… “Do you mind if we take a picture with you please????”I was looking at Bhajji..he obliged…I obliged too… and then it was apparent that they wanted separate pictures - one with Bhajji and one with me !!!
At that time, they turned and without even batting an eyelid thrust their camera in Lara’s hands and rushed to my side trying to get close.
I don’t want to dread to think what Lara was thinking that moment…He was trying to adjust the camera’s focus and there it was…
Lara taking my picture with this couple !! A perfect Kodak moment !
They thanked me so much for the photo..and in the same manner as before grabbed the camera from Lara’s hands after he had finished with Bhajji too.
We continued to speak with Lara later..who didn’t seem too perturbed about it.
Thank heavens..he happily obliged to smile with me here:

Pals he he..- May 2002

* Landing in England : I never knew in my wildest dreams that the first place I’d put my foot outside India would be London. I distinctly remember that misty morning when we landed at Heathrow on our way to the West Indies. It’s a great feeling you get while alighting from the flight dressed in team formals. You get the maximum look from the passersby then.
We had to change the airport from Heathrow to Gatwick, so it was a good 2 ½ hour bus ride from one place to the other. From the bus, the spartan surrounding reminded me of Pink Floyd’s video “Sorrow”
But that was last time…
This time along, it was the England Tour and the team had already left and my trip was still uncertain. Finally when the dust settled, I started preparing for my trip all alone. When you are with the team, you don’t have to bother much about where you are heading. Everything, I repeat, everything is taken care of. You just have to follow the herd.. But now I was all alone..heck !! and was booked on the Air India Economy Class flight, a massive change from the British Airways Executive Class that I took last time.
I started from Bangalore at about 1:30 in the night where I met up with one of my juniors from MIT who was on his way to the US for his MS. It was cloudy and cold in Mumbai the next morning and I proceeded to board my AI flight to London.
The cabin as expected was a heady influx of people dressed in all sorts of daily wear and with all sorts of cabin luggage. Next to me was an old Gujarati lady, I assumed she must be on the way to meet her relatives in England who represent a vast diaspora of Indians there. No sooner did I sit around, she kept asking me things in her native tongue which I tried my level best to understand. It was sad and yet gladsome to notice that she felt comfy asking me things rather than the AI staff on board.
The journey, again, was better left undescribed where I constantly tried to make myself comfortable in a seat that is worse than hitching a ride in a truck from Bangalore to Belgaum. After about 8 hours that seemed like eternity, we were finally hovering over London and the familiar clouds of the English “summer” were to be seen..After clearing inordinate biscuit-shaped/coloured buildings, the A-I Boeing finally landed. I was waiting to get out of the flight when my neighbour asked casually if Vancouver had come ! I was like ..shocked..
“Vancouver”..isn’t it in Canada?? I tried telling her that this is London. Sadly my bewilderment got the better of my nascent knowledge in Gujarati and I wasn’t able to convince her much.
She got up started taking out her bags from the luggage compartment. Luckily for me there was one gentleman who convinced her in her tongue again that this was London and not Vancouver. Also around the same time, the announcement came over asking the passengers heading for Vancouver to be seated till the London passengers had alighted. This calmed the old lady and she sat back.
Phew… I got down with my bags and a tremendous load on my back..yeah seriously I carried a lot of things over my back !
Finally I gathered my checked in luggage as well and stepped out through the immigration customs. It was a busy rush and I kind of expected somebody to have come to receive me.( I was told I’d be received by the ECB, English and Wales Cricket Board) Pushing my trolley, my eyes were prying with anything vaguely resembling the words “Cricket” written on it. There were hordes of people holding placards..In about 10-15 minutes, I caught sight of a tall man dressed smartly in a blue shirt and white tie, holding a decently big placard with my name on it. I was glad to see him. I went up and said hello to him. His name was John and was from the ECB.He helped me with my luggage and smilingly directed me to the parking lot.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t floored when a brightly shining Blue Mercedes Benz came out of the lot. After loading everything in the trunk, I could see it could still hold more.
John opened the door for me and I graciously accepted to be seated behind.
The journey from the Airport to the hotel would be an hour and 10 minutes he said. I was like OK..
The Brits had an impeccable sense of timing which I came to realize later as well. On the way, he asked me how hot India was and politely answered all the questions I was shooting about London. The drive back was as smooth as it could be and finally I could see we were entering what looked like the fashionable parts of London. Just before I had left India I had gone through some websites on “Things to do in London” and I KNEW the concept of tipping drivers, waiters was common. As a result I had this uneasy feeling inside me when I knew that my wallet contained nothing that could be acceptable in the UK – Some 7-800 Indian Rupees and not a single pound sterling.I was already contemplating telling John honestly that I didn’t have anything to give him. When in these thoughts, we turned and John told me that our hotel was just at the corner.
Our car stopped and I got down to take out my luggage.
John again was helpful with this while I looked around at the wonderful sights before me. When I was just about to take my last piece from the Merc, one cab pulled over and I could not help an extremely gleeful smile.
Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid just got down from the car in their trainers with bats in tow.
Both of them smiled back from across the road and Rahul said : “Sumeet !! Finally you landed ..” ( Rem the lead I told you abt John Wright’s vain efforts?)
But Sachin walked ahead and I shook hands with him and Rahul next.
Sachin muttered : “Ab mera internet kaam karega bhai..” In my exalted state of stupor, I started picking up my luggage and shook hands with John and just managed to say ,“Thank You”.
I remember very well what he said then “You are a very lucky man”
I couldn’t agree with him more..

In London..finally - July 2002

* Interview ..US Ishtyle : One of the best things about being abroad with the team is the equality in status you get from the people there. Now I am not crying in despair at the inequality of the status that exists in India, but obviously it pains in a gathering to see how people choose whom to speak to or hear from when they see us all around, isn’t it? Esp. when you are not among the chosen ones.
Far from the godly status the cricketers enjoy in India, in places like the West Indies, NZ etc they don’t get recognized much by the people leave alone being haggled for photos, autographs etc. It was unbelievable once in the W.I, a lady came to our table and announced unexpectedly that her son was a big fan of cricket and that she’d be grateful if we could sign our autographs for him. We quietly nodded. But then she wanted the Captain and the Vice-Captain to sign first. Someone pointed her out to Dada, who was sitting next to me and he unassumingly signed first. Just when he was finishing, Dada pointed out to me and told her that I was the Vice Captain…The lady continued with her dialogues of gratitude and quite oblivious to my perplexity thrust the paper in my arms and said it was an honour meeting the Captain and the Vice-Captain of the team !!
Well there were numerous other occasions when junta couldn’t distinguish me as not being a player and routinely I surfed on the wave.
Once in India too…Guwahati if I am not mistaken, we were waiting in the Airport Lounge when some desi junta caught sight of their cricketing heroes and made a beeline towards us. Since the lounge wasn’t allowed to all the people only a few managed to sneak in. That was OK and not unusual. But was not is when they rushed in , thrust the camera in Rahul’s hands and came and stood next to me and Laxman and asked Rahul to take the photo. That Rahul had turned beetroot red is a moment I remember he still holds against me. :-) But what takes the cake is what happened in Leeds, England.
India had just crafted a magnificent Test victory against England, the best victory by any Indian team abroad. We had won by an innings and 46 runs. Obviously this was great news to all the passionate followers of the Indian Team and dispelling news to its critics. It had ignited a worldwide interest and I could see some new faces in the press covering the matches. Well the media followed us like shadows anywhere we went. I was even interviewed by one Indo-Canadian journalist who noted my views on a lot of aspects of Cricket. That was on the ground.
Back in the hotel, one fine evening I got a call in my room. The receptionist told that one Mr. B***** wanted to speak to me. I said fine and waited. After the line got transferred, the person introduced him self as Mr. S**** B***** from the India Abroad News Service (IANS) based in the US. He said he’d be very grateful if I could just speak to him a few words about the match. I was pleasantly surprised and nonchalantly said OK and that he could come over to my room. I swiftly tidied the room in case there was a photo opportunity or a shoot.. who knew??
In a while, I heard the knock on my door, which I opened to a bespectacled gentleman who again introduced himself. I greeted him and invited him to come in. I could notice that he wasn’t the usual press types who are, rather, act free with us. Our man was conspicuously demure and affectedly polite. Which gave me some sort of confidence. He said that this was the first time he was covering Cricket since he specialized in covering political events happening in India and publishing them to the NRIs in different countries. But since India had won such a great victory, he felt that he had to cross the Atlantic to cover the story and get some interviews done. I gently nodded.
He removed a diary and held a pen in his hand from which I gathered that the “Interview” was about to begin.
The First Question..
SB: So Rahul, how does it feel to be the Man-of-the Match of such a great victory?
Me: Almost Fell Off
Yes !! He asked me this !!
I was like Sorry..I was sure that my ears hadn’t heard it wrong …it simply couldn’t be true !!
He noticed the awe in me and politely asked if there was something wrong..
I was like, I am Sumeet Pai, the Computer Analyst..I am not Rahul Dravid !
I must say you could notice his face melting in embarrassment/shock/discomfiture. He checked his dairy again for something..he was like, he was told by our Manager that Rahul was in Room #243( my room) and that’s why he was here.
I couldn’t help smiling and told him that he was sadly mistaken. I checked up the Rooming List and found out Rahul’s room was #234!
To help him tide over the crisis, I started asking him questions about how the news agency worked etc etc..I guess he was glad to answer them instead of ruminating over what had just happened.
He then started asking questions about the nature of Computer Analysis, the answers of which I could tell even in sleep! He promised that even this might be a story in his paper back home and that he’d contact me the next day! I escorted him to Rahul’s room and introduced them to each other. He still had the fearful look in his eyes (I am sure he would have killed himself if this one too had turned out to be a case of mistaken identities!!) Rahul was polite and invited him inside.
I limped back to my room in laughter and hilarity over the entertainment I had just been through!
Next day at the breakfast table, I asked Rahul how it was before telling him my story. He put his hand on his head and asked me where had I found him !! It seems the venerable Mr. S B asked him inane questions like “Why is the number 3 batsman called 1-Down ??” and also “Why do the openers come in first??”etc etc..
Trust IANS to have reporters having such a fantastic knowledge on India’s biggest game! The next two days in Leeds I could spot Mr. SB digging himself under the newspaper whenever I looked at him!

London Eye - August 2002

Hmm..some more…