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Flying out of Asia for the first time was exciting enough. That it was to a place with so many links to India was strange. I hadn’t felt out of place in either Pakistan or Sri Lanka – the two countries I had visited earlier. And it was to be the same with South Africa.

Cape Town

My schedule would take me along the coast of South Africa. Starting at the Western Cape with Cape Town, to the Eastern Cape with Border’s East London and towards Kwa-Zulu Natal’s Durban. I landed in Cape Town with a rucksack and a smaller shoulder bag. Most of my luggage was made of ready-to-eat veggie products. The customs were circumspect about them. They threw away the rice – “you can buy it here” – and the dry fruits – “they have seeds”. Of course, to make me feel at home, I learned that the other Indians in the crew had had no such problems.

Cape Town

Cape Town

The first thing that struck me was the brilliant evening sun. The air was so clean. As the taxi sped towards the Table Mountain, I saw shacks adjoining the freeway with a truckload of plastic strewn along them. More at home.

Newlands

The first four matches of the IPL and the opening ceremony were to be held at Newlands, which has, to one side, the Table Mountain. I later realised every structure in Cape Town has Table Mountain to one side.

Newlands

Newlands

Newlands has to be among the best-looking cricket grounds in the world. It is well-kept and is quite pretty. The IPL has come as a breath of fresh air here as people start queuing up for tickets 3 days before the first game.

Table Mountain

After a spectacular opening ceremony which featured Snow Patrol and many acrobats and dancers and after four frenetic first games, we had one of our many off days. At breakfast, one plan has people resting and the other has them climbing Table Mountain. The second one requires cutting short my breakfast, which I do.
My jeans seems inappropriate for a 1km climb up the Platteklip Gorge. But I am vindicated half way through when the wind quickly becomes a blizzard of sorts. Jumpers come on and hands become numb. Its mental. Monumental.

Warning

Warning

At various stages of the climb, say from the first 10m of it, I feel like going back down. The air is thinner and my muscles are cramping. Alex, the lightest of all of us can’t take it any longer. It could be his asthma. I offer to go with him to the foot of the mountain, more for myself than for him. He refuses and alights alone. I grit my teeth, throw away the insane lollipop I bought and start again. Miraculously, the steeper the route got, the easier it was to climb.

Atop Table Mountain

Atop Table Mountain

At the top, there were five of us, and a further two others. The cableway had been abandoned for the day due to the angry weather. But there were easier routes to climb up the mountain. Who cares! From atop, one part of Cape Town lays subject to this godly view, the Lion’s Head looks beautiful and not imposing, while afar into the ocean, Robben Island is quietly soaked in history.

The Royal Challengers

The only reason I would support a team with that name would be if it represented Bangalore, which it did, sadly. The accountant-like approach to T20 cricket hadn’t worked last year and this time, they had made sure some colourful personalities crowded them. KP and Ryder are amongst the most talked about cricketers but it wouldn’t help if Jesse gets out first or second ball and KP gets weighed down by expectations. Then, Kumble comes along and gets a 5-er in the first game. Dravid scores quickly. They win.

Cape Flats, cape fear

Carte Blanche is the name of a documentary playing on the very enjoyable Mnet channels here. It is about South Africa’s, Cape Town’s especially, high crime rate. Tracing the murders of two white men, an actor follows leads to deconstruct the crime and understand the city. Cape Flats too has to one side, the Table Mountain. I am reminded of the many news headlines hung onto poles publicising newspapers. Some of them went like this: “IPL fever set to catch on” “ANC and Zuma look for big win” “Flats is the most dangerous place in the world”
Every day, at least five people are murdered in the Flats. Tik is a local drug which is rampant here. People are not just robbed, they are killed and mutilated. And on the other side of the Table Mountain, the most modern of cars run the roads and the most impressive of houses are built with burglar alarms.

Cheerleaders

One of the most boring additions to cricket. The Bangalore ones, hired from the US, know a few tricks. They are sort of a cross between bimbos and acrobats. For some of them though, it is a part-time exercise. They have jobs at home or are studying for another profession.
After a few unholy dalliances with players last season, some of the girls have been barred from going out. Some were sent packing midway through the IPL.
Jacques Kallis’ sister and Mark Boucher’s cousin are amongst the cheerleading teams this year. Wish magicians or tightrope walkers had been allowed on these podiums. Imagine someone dissolving Modi into thin air during the 7-and-a-half-minute itch.

7-and-a-half-minute itch

The strategy is to have one shitty section of PR building and another of blatant sexism. The first section has 5 kids chosen from god-knows-where to avail of a scholarship which has been instituted by IPL. Initially, all the kids went for South African players as their favourite. After a few days time, they were smart enough to remember Indian names. And most of them looked convent-bred anyway.
The Bollywood section is a joke, a bad one too. Most of the “contestants” seemed to be in love with Shah Rukh Khan. One inadvertently (I hope) mentioned Salman Khan. Bad move. Given Shah Rukh had other things to worry about, it might not be a major faux pas.

Robben Island

It is not a tourist spot. Some of my friends found that out. It has such a seductive name that anyone would fall for it. Its grim history is worth nothing if one is looking for a beach resort. Nelson Mandela was held captive for 18 years, Robert Sobukwe lost his mind and life during the 4 years he was held here and ship wrecks outline the island.

Prison where Robert Sobukwe lived and died

Prison where Robert Sobukwe lived and died

A former prison inmate takes you on a tour of the prison. He was perhaps a teenager in the 70s when he was here. I ask if Gandhi was an influence. “To the ANC he was. But the later generation retaliated with violence when peaceful protest didn’t work.”
The Robben Island tour is one of the best organised ones. The guide in the bus is eloquent. She takes us around the place giving general information and at the end asks, “How many of you are from the US?” – a few hands are raised – “How many from India?” – one hand goes up.

Cape of Good Hope

I think the place that is the Cape of Good Hope has seen quite a few Indian film shoots in its time. Some Tamil ones come to mind: Jeans? Kadalar Dinam?
Never mind. Cape Point is the first destination. What a drive it turns out to be? Along the coast, passing some of the most scenic places, the superb roads make for worthwhile travel. There is another route around the Chapman’s Peak. But it was closed. We still saw clouds clearing to show a glimpse of the ocean beneath the peak.

Around Chapman's Peak

Around Chapman's Peak

Cape Point is also a kind of National Park with some species of animals found wandering around. We saw what we thought was a Kudu. Nobody contested it, so it shall remain mentioned as that.
At Cape Point, we ignore the funicular and climb the far easier 300m steep. Next to a watch tower one of the direction-boards shows Delhi to be 9000+ kms away. There is a Tamil family next to us. I don’t bother chatting as it is close to sundown and there are two more places to visit.P1030962
A short trek down to another location in Cape Point is said to take 30 minutes one way. We run there in 3. A Chinese delegation is trying darned hard to appear as photogenic as possible in various contortions for poses. Few more photos later we run back up in 5 minutes. Its time for the Cape of Good Hope.

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope

You can either take to the road and reach in 10 minutes or just run the trail between the two Capes in what is said to take 90. The “What is Said” minus “What is necessary” is largely in the positive in South Africa. So we run again and reach in 10 minutes. The sun is just ready to set.

East London

If Bangalore hadn’t been tampered with over the years, it would look like this. Come to think of it, it is a scary thought. An extremely boring place if you aren’t put up in the Hemingways. It is a small, pretty town with one casino for pastime.
The ground is good-looking and like Ewan in Newlands, Ashley in Buffalo Park is a top curator. One of its ends is also called the graveyard or cemetery end. We expect no more than 1 pitch change over the three games here. As it turns out, Ashley works wonders and keeps one pitch for all the matches.

Cemetery End

Cemetery End

On a place where Buffaloes roamed around in the past, East London floods into the grass banks on a sold-out Labour Day match. Can’t remember who played. Doesn’t matter. It has only been 48 hours since I lost my mobile.

My mobile

Nokia’s 3110c is an outstanding low-range multimedia mobile. Mine was two years old and I lost it somewhere between the bus we were travelling and the hotel, Hemingways. When my friends call from their phones, they can hear it ring, and they can hear it being disconnected. I do the honourable thing: call up Vodacom and cancel my prepaid which still had some 300 Rands of talktime in it.
At least, some South African (hopefully) will have a listen to Yesudas, SPB and Balamurali Krishna among other wide-ranging genres of music.

Casino

The most infuriating thing in this trip was not my loss of mobile. It was that I took almost a week to go to the casino in Hemingways. That too, when we had a free voucher for 50 Rands each day. What an idiot!
I finally go there with a 100 Rand voucher. Tentative at first, I slip into a vacant position around the Russian Roulette. I have 10 5-Rand coins and two of 25 Rands each. I lose some of the 5s initially. Then it starts. I learn to place bets on four numbers with one coin. More chances of winning. I place bets on colours, 50% chance of winning. I spread my bets, work with numbers, appear suave. Soon I have at least four times more coins.
The statutory warning says, “winners know when to stop”. I didn’t remember it. In two minutes I lose everything.
The next day, 50 Rands voucher, gone in 60 seconds.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… BUNGEE

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216m below bridge level

Somewhere near Tsitsikamma happens to be the Bloukrans bridge. It has its share of breath-taking view and the like. However, its fame is derived from the 216m bungee run by Face Adrenaline. It takes no second invitation for us to be there. But to make it abnormal, we take a completely uncalled-for route along a rough, mountainous path. We start earliest for Bloukrans, but before we reach, some of our crew have already jumped and grinned.
I am 4th or 5th in line to jump. We are told not to jump feet-first. Even with the safety, there is a good chance of the body snapping hard when the bungee rope reached the end. The guys operating it are loony and maintain a relaxed mood there. It is when you cross the red line and stand at the edge of the bridge that fear sets in.
For a second, I didn’t want to jump. I had paid the 620 Rands, so I thought I might just have to. For the next second, my body wouldn’t move. Then they half push and you half-jump. Then it is dead quiet. Wind floods your ears. The clapping and cheering behind is drowned in this manic fall. It is so for the next 5 seconds. The rope ends, you rebound, up about 150m perhaps. Then you fall down again. All is still quiet but for the gusting wind.
After the many bounces, when you hang upside down looking at a small puddle of water, slightly worried that the rope seems to be giving way at your ankle, you want to be pulled up as quickly as possible.
Once back up, I realise that they have screwed up my DVD. I get the photos free. Bollocks!

Harsha Bhogle

It is a surprise to find Harsha in the commentary team. Finally, somewhere away from the international cricket-shy ESPN STAR. He’s a super guy. Like a lot of us, he’s struggling with the food here. “I’ve eaten the same dish for the last seven days in the hotel.”
I offer one ready-to-eat. He isn’t sure.

Knightmare

Poor Brendon McCullum! What could have been his ticket to international captaincy turned into an F-grade on his CV. Every time KKR took to the field, you felt they could beat anyone. After the first ball, reality dawned in.
Their time was up when they lost the battle of the unlucky, against the Royal Challengers. Their time was up when KP, in his last game, took out McCullum with his first ball. SRK has become a joke after leaving the team when he saw it in bad shape. I only know about it from South African fans in East London. “The Bollywood actor has gone back home and won’t come back till his team start winning.”

Modi cam

Most people can’t understand why they have to watch the commissioner of the IPL 20 times a day. He’s there at the toss, he’s there texting relentlessly on his mobile, he’s there giving a school some dough, he’s there listening to the school principal showering praises on him, he’s there hanging around with a bevy of beauties, he’s there again texting on his mobile but this time among other dignitaries, he’s there looking haggard supporting every team that is winning, he’s there among film stars, he’s there at the presentation ceremony, he’s there here, he’s there there.
And as if all this footage can’t make people remember his name, the commentators go, “thats the commissioner of IPL…”

The Brahmastra

Which is the only ball that qualified as being both a DLF maximum and a Citi moment of success? I don’t remember it, but it happened. There is a set minimum number of times these two IPL mantras have to be recited for a smooth flowing of the tournament and warding of evil. One is for sixes while the other is for anything apart from it.
Once, it might have been Pommie, the commentator cried out “thats a Citi moment of success” which he soon realised was actually a six, meaning, a “DLF maximum”. So, thus was born the most potent of balls which had been blessed by two powerful rishi-munis.


Burgers, sandwiches and wanting to vomit

Burgers are a curse. I would have said this even if I had not already seen Super Size Me. The first two days were fine, more because they were the only veggie options available. But hell, do they suck.
Sandwiches are huge and are everywhere. I didn’t know you’d have types of cheese. I didn’t know sandwiches and burgers were had at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The menu otherwise

The menu otherwise

One day I get a strong feeling to throw up. It is not compelling but every time I think of the lunch I had had, like a dormant volcano turning active, undigested food slipped up the intestines, through the oesophagus and almost to and out of the throat. Yuk! Burgers!

Bunny Chaav

With only a few days to go for the return home, I get to taste the original South African dish, the bunny chaav: a hollow bread loaf filled with gravy. Finally, food that had a bit of salt and spice to it. Though the overwhelming visions of boiled vegetables and burgers wouldn’t fade, at least there had been some progress on the food front.

Durban

Kingsmead will have hosted the most number of IPL matches this year. It could be because of the strong Indian connection in Durban. A waiter in our hotel has hardly been out of South Africa, but he is Tamil and speaks alright; better than Chennai’s “Bombay Heroines”.
One of the ends is named the Umgeni end, on the river that runs through the city. A bird park too is named after it, which I plan to but don’t visit. “Please take a car sir, it is dangerous to walk,” says the guy at the hotel.


Daryl Harper

One of the guys in the crew had said that Daryl Harper is the worst umpire in the world, but the best of blokes. The first part is tad harsh.
Somehow we meet on the dinner table. We being on rather opposite scales of decision-making apparatus, he points out to some “errors” we might have made. I ask him about the shoulder-before-wicket.
“I have the video with me. I can show you it was a correct decision.” I know that. But that decision still is his calling card.
“How did Sachin react?”
“He did not say a word. He did not write a word against me in his captain’s report.”

“You a good oke, bru”

The South African English has its moments. Blokes are okes, mates are brus, yeah is yaaa and South Africa is sudh affrica. The tv says a good oke can also be a laarnie. V is almost always F. At times you are a Baba, but generally you are a bru.


Catches

Back at cricket, McCullum might not go away empty handed after all. What a catch it was, flying to his left! As many things IPL, I can’t remember whose and where it was, but I can remember what it was.
Raina too took a reflex catch at… short-square-leg perhaps. Very similar to Dravid’s catch of Moin Khan in 1999 in Australia. But Raina was a bit further away from the bat. Still a super catch.

The Resurgence

I’ve never felt an affinity to any one particular club or team which doesn’t belong to some place close to home. I thought I might not support a team owned by a liquor baron and made of strange players. In the euphoria of a big tournament like this however, it is inevitable.
Bangalore’s comeback has been largely due to the Karnataka angle to it. Kumble captains a team which at one point has four homegrown bowlers. It would have been great to have seen Arvind get a game: left-arm seamer rated as T20 potential.
One performance of Kumble’s team stands out. In the Kaveri derby, Bangalore fielded better than they had ever done, better than anyone had done in the IPL. The catching was just special.
Ross Taylor is a player with immense ability. A true world star in the making, one hopes he becomes more Martin Crowe than Nathan Astle for New Zealand’s sake.

Mumbai Madness

Each match saw a new favourite to root for. But the basic flowchart was such
1. In a match with Bangalore in it, Bangalore is to be supported.
2. In other matches with Mumbai in it, Mumbai is to be supported.
It could be because Mumbai is my second favourite city. It is surely because Sachin plays for it.
Still, many things have happened that bring back memories of Australia 1999 like undigested burgers ready to explode. First there was that chat with Harper. Then it is Sachin’s captaincy which has a tragic side to it. Melancholic and unfortunate, he ends up losing unnecessarily. How can Ranji dominance translate into winning the garish IPL trophy?


Amending the flowchart

There is a super rule that overrides everything to the above-mentioned flowchart: support Kolkata regardless of who they are playing. This could be because Bangalore have already played their two matches against them.

Emirates entertainment console

It was time to leave, more than a week before the Final. The Emirates staff has air-hostesses from close to 10 countries. One of them is Indian. She isn’t able to work out why my entertainment console is running the BIOS setup like a stuck record.
It happened four hours from the destination. The monitor won’t switch off and while everyone next to and around me is enjoying the entertainment, I am cursed to watch a recurring Linux boot screen. The Indian girl puts a blanket over it. Thanks.

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