So long, Sri Lanka. A 4am wake up, taxi, and short flight allowed us to land in the southeastern city of Chennai a short while before 9am. Nice enough flight, and one which gave everybody a beer. At 8am. Interesting start to what was sure to be a long day.
‘Long’ is a good way to describe numerous things that happened during our first 36 hours on Indian soil. The long line to get through immigration and visa controls in the airport. The long walk around the enormous Chepauk stadium to find our gate to enter Chennai’s cricket ground. The long faces as England collapsed to what we all thought was a dismal and irrecoverable 172.
We were in Chennai for the cricket. We left being thankful for watching a very exciting game of cricket, otherwise our opinion of the city would have plunged to unfathomable depths. It may have been the heat. It may have been the smell. It may have been the tuk tuk drivers, the lack of watering holes, the disastrous directions relayed to us by so many people. But we did not like Chennai. At all.
Let’s hit the positives first. The cricket. England may have been sub-par when batting, but we were often paying attention to the local fans. They were certainly paying more attention to us. They all seemed keen for us to sit next to them, and then wanted to converse with us. I liked that. But what we weren’t too keen on was some of them pulling Chris’ hair or asking if they could have my hat. Still, they were a very fun and enjoyable, if occasionally irritating, aspect of our time here. Especially the little boy who wanted to teach me a thrusting dance move that more resembled something belonging in the Kama sutra.
As England scented victory, an increasing number of Indians surrounded us in our latest position in the stand. As with Sri Lanka, there were no set seats, so we kept moving around to find shade from the searing heat. No chance of a rain break this time. The majority of the fans inside the stadium were now firmly on England’s side, and they began taking my flag and waving it vociferously. And asking what it was. I’m having to play the ‘England’ card quite a lot at the moment, and then when they understand that I will tell them I am from Wales. Doesn’t help that they were often waving the flag upside-down and asking if it was the flag of the Netherlands.
The excitement descended into pure joy when England sensationally wrapped up a six-run victory. Another tight game for our lot, who seem to be playing to boost television ratings with each epic match they play. We were constantly asked for photos at this point by every enthusiastic local fan who laid eyes on us. So a lot. 26,512 photos would not be a bad guess. We spent the evening drinking with the Barmy Army, England’s committed travelling band of cricket fans, who had some wonderful songs.
This was my favourite chant, involving one of our bowlers, Tim Bresnan, and to the tune of Mary Hopkin's Those Were The Days:
We’ve had a garlic naan,
We’ve had a cheesy naan,
We’ve had a keema, we’ve had a plain one too,
But our favourite naan,
Is our boy Tim Bresnan,
Because he wants to win the World Cup too.
Brilliant invention. I mentioned we were drinking beer. That is not an easy task here. We were tucked carefully away in the basement of a hotel, and only knew people were there from talking to a couple of Mancunians in the ground. As for the famous Indian cuisine came, our first experience of this came at lunchtime, when we went outside to a stall and bought a plate of food. I think it was chat, but cannot be sure. You don’t ask questions here; just eat it and enjoy the senses you experience.
Your senses will be hard at work in the city itself, and it is rather difficult to suppress them. The sight of rubbish all along the roads. The smell of urine, faeces and just a whole load of bad things. The taste of leaded petrol as a tuk tuk storms past, hammering his horn in a manner that seems to make it pointless. We had serious issues with the tuk tuk drivers when we needed to get to the bus station. The hostel told us to pay Rs135-200 (£1 is about Rs73 here). We were being quoted double that. When I went to ask something else in the hostel they threw Chris’ bag onto the side of the road and broke a bottle. Eventually, after a massive grandstanding show from me, involving calling the big man a liar and slinging on my bag and almost hitting him before storming down the street, someone else said Rs170. A lot of effort, mind. My patience is certainly going to be tested here.
It was tested when I attempted to buy a SIM card for my phone. I’m having a problem with the accent, and they are certainly having a problem with mine. I must have got it badly wrong when I thought that the level of English would be reasonably good. Every country takes time to adapt to, which I guess helps to explain our issue with Chennai. Confusion and chaos reigned supreme, not least when trying to find our bus out of the city, and that is something that I just have to get used to in the next three months. But we’re away from big cities for a while, so I’m hoping that the real India, as opposed to the one that has lots of bamboo scaffolding, captures my heart. And it wasn’t all bad – England won!!
Love you all