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Nagpur gets a lot of bad press particularly when cricket comes to town – the stadium's too far, transport is over-priced, there aren't enough hotels around for an event the size of the World Cup, the restaurants are average, the bars are minimum. Where do you go? What's there to see? (okay, sales pitch: this is exactly what happens because you don't read this).
Despite its Dominos and McDonalds, Nagpur just doesn't do globalisation very well. God bless its socks for that. It may be the geographical centre of India, 1190 kms south from the capital Delhi (the centre of the universe, of course) and is still a bit detached from the megalomania of the new, shining India. The outskirts of Nagpur now stretch towards its airport, all along the two-laned National Highway No. 7 where women in saris still ride a confident bicycle along it into town. For the outsider, the rural and the urban do not appear locked in mortal combat here, their edges kind of mingle.
The cricket stadium that will host India v South Africa, the hotel that is running a non-stop room service for players, umpires, officials and the airport that brings them to Nagpur and takes them away are found all along NH7, Nagpur's World Cup bloodline. There will be many who will be in Nagpur but still not in Nagpur during the World Cup.
Yet much happen in Nagpur off the main road, away from the visitor's gaze. A local newspaper here said the Indian team took an 'alternate' route on its way from airport to hotel, the cops say, due to the accidental stoning of the West Indian team bus in Dhaka. It may seem impossible to chart out an an alternate route from what is a 500m dead straight road from airport to hotel. Who knows the route India took, but there's a chance that it took them past a somewhat sad spot which, like much of Nagpur, is hidden.
Tucked away near the cargo area at the airport, there rests what is called a “Martyr's Platform”. It is a series of two ascending platforms, four lamp posts around them, an empty flag pole on one side and at the top, a raised block of granite, the height of an average adult's knee. The granite block is meant for coffins. It is where ceremonial functions take place whenever a soldier's body is brought to Nagpur.
The city has always been a British Raj cantonment town and now houses an Air Force Station (also off NH7) but the Platform is new. A short distance away from the airport is the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Group Centre, an operational central command for India's main para-military force that must deal with insurgency, riots or any political turmoil. The CRPF goes where the local police cannot handle the trouble and the army cannot wage civil war against its citizens. It is a miserable, brutal, and unrewarding duty, without the glamour or acclaim attached to the army. In 2010, estimates say the CRPF lost 190 men. For many of them the Last Post may have played over this Platform, a walking distance from the team hotel, 10kms away from Jamtha Stadium.
Not all of Nagpur is about oranges. Or cricket.
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