Khulna is so sleepy its alarm clocks need alarm clocks. It needs its own hashtag and its jokes.
At night, though, Khulna is dressed up. Decorative lights along the roads, welcome posters, national flags. It's the biggest event the city has seen in a long time. The local MP, also a BCB director and a cousin of the prime minister, has taken care of it all.
A road near a major intersection is blocked. There's a stage in it. A concert is on. Flashing lights, lasers. Massive crowd. People pile up on rickshaws to get a view. The backdrop to the stage is a collage of images, at its centre is the ubiquitous face of the MP, flanked by pictures of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe cricketers.
One evening in my hotel room, there's a knock on the door. I open and there is a middle-aged man with a few people behind him. He walks in past me, asks for the CEO. It's the man from the posters, the MP. He's looking for the BCB CEO but has the wrong room number.
The players' neighbour
The teams are staying in a hotel nearby but the road that runs past it has been blocked off completely. The fortifications are a bit excessive. Legendary mobster Ershad Sikdar's house is barely 100m from the hotel, but Sikdar doesn't live there anymore. Khulna is not the wild west it used to be.
Sikdar was famous for his modes of killing. Chopping people up, turning them into blocks of ice, weighing bodies down to sink them in the Rupsha river, putting victims into tanks of carnivorous fish. Used to run a court on his jetty on the Rupsha. Sikdar was a James Bond villain in real life. He was sentenced to death in 2004. His massive two-storeyed villa, the Sworno Kamal, doesn't say Sworno Kamal anymore. The nameplate on the gate is blank.
The official tea-maker
Bullu bhai is everywhere. Dhaka. Khulna. He will make his special lemon tea when you want it, when you don't want it, before the match, during the match, after the match. The Bangladesh players know him, the journalists and photographers can't work without him. Once, MS Dhoni tasted a cup of Bullu bhai's tea. He couldn't stop at one, and soon the Indian team were fans. Dhoni gave away his team shirt to Bullu bhai, signing it with a personal message. It's not the only memento Bullu bhai has.
He claims he was once Tendulkar's lucky charm. The day before a match, he says, he showed Tendulkar a picture of Lord Jagannath of Puri while serving him tea. Tendulkar touched the picture, for a blessing. The next day, he scored his 100th hundred.
"One policeman comes in, flashes a torch in our faces. Wants to see ID. Hits our driver for smiling. Not sure how I would have reacted to muggers, but policemen are certainly scary"
The toughest job in cricket
I spend an hour watching the Test from the terrace of the media centre. The cameramen are there too. I keep my gaze moving; they don't move. I take a chair; they keep standing. One of them is from Bangalore. He shows me his rig during the break. Heavy machinery. Controls on both handles - buttons to switch the communication feeds on the right, and a dial to control focus on the left. The dial has to be managed while moving the camera to keep the ball in sight, a process repeated 540 times a day by the cameraman. The players get to rest, the umpires swap ends, but the cameramen just cannot switch off. It's physically demanding - like driving a motorbike while standing.
The moonlit ride
Mashrafe Mortaza is from Khulna. When in town, he likes to eat at a roadside shack at Zero Point, outside the city limits. I head there for dinner via the impressive Rupsha bridge. It's a segmental bridge, fairly new, quite tall, gives great views.
The road is fantastic but lonely. Open fields on either side. No artificial light anywhere. The electric rickshaw has its lights off too, saving its batteries.
One of those in the company is quiet. Says road is notorious for muggings. We are stopped. Police van parked in the darkness. No lights again. One policeman comes in, flashes a torch in our faces. Wants to see ID. Hits our driver for smiling. We are let off after a few minutes. Not sure how I would have reacted to muggers, but policemen are certainly scary.
The selection news
Limited choices for dinner in Khulna town centre. #KhulnaIsSoSleepy. Local journalists list all the restaurants they have been to, or would want to visit. The number is three. One of them caters at the stadium. The second is within our hotel complex. Third is a short walk away. Nothing to do in Khulna either.
One evening gets interesting. I get a call from another journalist. A surprise selection is on the cards for the third Test. I am told to keep it quiet and confirm it the next morning. It could be an exclusive. After dinner, I notice others discussing it softly. So it's not an exclusive anymore. I wait. The next morning I am the last to realise the news was planted to send everyone on a wild goose chase. Someone even called up the board to check, but was told off. Luckily it was not me.
The most soothing bus ride ever
The bus is late. Next, we hear it is cancelled. Lots of upset people force the company to arrange for a better bus.
Khulna to Jessore is one of the most beautiful routes ever - tree-lined, ditches full of water all along, palm trees, shacks with roofs thatched with cucumber vines, no plastic litter, small towns. A shop, not a showroom, with cycles stacked outside reminds me of the day I bought my first bicycle. There is nothing to see as such, but that's the point; it slows your brain down. So peaceful. It's like being in the back country in Goa. One day, development will come, the roads will be broadened, trees will be hacked down, ditches filled.
Return ferry ride. Long queue of buses. Someone on the bus calls up a friend in the police. We get priority, overtaking 13 other buses. Forty minutes early for the fresh hilsa served on the ferry.
Big plane, small airport. I am the first to get off in Sylhet. A car is waiting. It takes me past the town centre, the tea gardens and the Sylhet Cricket Stadium in their midst, through open roads with paddy fields on either side, on roads so bumpy that going zigzag is the only way forward, all the way to the Tamabil border.
I should have got a receipt from a bank to say I have paid travel tax, I am told at immigration. Stuck now. Only have 12 takas. Need 500. Pay in Indian rupees. Now left with 12 takas and Rs 20. Twenty steps and I am at the India post. A member of the Border Security Force strikes up a conversation. I am offered tea. His Beretta is on the table, pointed towards me. I move on, get my stamps done. No shuttle cars as it's a Sunday. Need to walk 2km with bags to Dawki for a taxi to Shillong.
Dawki is 20 houses and 10 cars. No one is moving. I buy tea. Twenty metres ahead is the most amazing sight: the trees clear up to reveal the cleanest, greenest, stillest river I have seen. It's so clean I can see the shadows of boats on the riverbed in deep sections.
It's hot. Five minutes later, I am in the water. Twenty days, two wins in two Tests for Bangladesh all because of me, fish and mustard, meat and rice, calm and chaos, cricket madness. Now taxis with Liverpool, Barca, Real, Arsenal stickers. Exit cricket nation, enter football country.