My first trip to India to cover cricket was in 2006. I went as a freelance photographer and that meant for the most part I had to try and shoot photos from positions away from the agency photographers to still have a chance of selling some of my produce. Mumbai was the third Test of the England tour and I had a choice of either sitting with about 30 photographers in a lovely, comfortable shaded area or sitting with just two other snappers in the blazing heat. I obviously had to choose the hot end and by the end of each day I was so exhausted that I couldn't speak - and that's pretty unusual for me.
During this Test match, I photographed India's best known cricket fan whose name is Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary. He was watching the warm ups through a fence and with his painted face and his hair cut in a way so it represented a map of India he was an attractive subject to shoot. Sudhir didn't seem that keen to be photographed but I persevered with a long lens that morning and eventually took some frames that I was happy with.
When I returned to India in March 2011 as a Reuters photographer for the World Cup, Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary turned up for an India training session waving his giant flag. I was very keen to photograph his painted back with the name of his favourite player painted on it and Sudhir told me he was having some paint applied the next morning in preparation for the upcoming India match against the West Indies. In fact, Sudhir flies in the face of convention and seems only happy with gloss paint. I'm sure it's not good for him, we all know (ok, some of us then) what happened to the members of the group Kiss after they applied masses of make up for all those years. They're hideous now. That's you Simmons, Criss, Frehley and Stanley! Hideous.
I agreed to meet the freshly painted Sudhir at the ground at 9am and also arranged for my regular tuk-tuk driver to be ready for this early outing. I had forged a pretty close relationship with my tuk-tuk driver, close enough that he had entrusted me with his bank details and sort-code so that I could deposit money in his account at any time that I liked. His daughter's wedding was imminent and it was obviously a financial burden that was going to be better shared between the two of us, or so he thought.
I have many memories of careering around the streets of Chennai with my iPod * headphones in my ears as (how embarrassing, I've forgotten his name) .. mentioned how expensive weddings were for the 372nd time.
One morning I had ventured out of the hotel and (still can't remember his name) .. was not there. Let's call him Tristan for the sake of inaccuracy. I was taken on a trip about Chennai by an elderly tuk-tuk driver (can't remember his name either, do you remember taxi drivers and pilot's names? No, I didn't think so). Let's call this one Percy. After I'd taken a few shots that I was happy with, Percy asked if I wanted to visit his house. Instantly, I said yes. We had a quick visit, he showed me about the place, which to be honest, didn't take too long at all.
On my next trip with Tristan (are you keeping up?) I mentioned my invitation and subsequent trip to a tuk-tuk driver's home and instantly we were on route to Tristan's residence. It was actually a larger home than Percy's. I offered to take a photograph of Tristan and his family and he seemed keen but Mrs Tristan (not her real name, but you know that) wanted some time to prepare for a photograph. That was fair enough. So I went for a stroll with Tristan around his neighbourhood while we waited for Mrs Tristan to make herself ready for the photo shoot. We met the local kids, we saw some buffalo and we meandered past the dead lady lying in a clear plastic box/coffin. After a few minutes Mrs T was ready and appeared outside the house in a lovely outfit and her face painted bright green. After some pictures we were off again.
Anyhow, our 9am trip to the ground to meet Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary was fruitless as he stood me up. I was pretty upset about the wasted journey and cursed the painted man most of the way back to the hotel.
That afternoon I returned to the ground for the India v West Indies World Cup match and as I sat in my photo position I spotted Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary sitting in the front row of a stand, way in the distance. He's fairly easy to spot as he waves a gigantic flag. As the first innings was completed I raced around to the stand and located Sudhir who was exiting a men's toilet. (Have I included too much detail here? Yes? Really?). I convinced him to follow me downstairs and as the sun had already set I placed Sudhir near a floodlight and took some shots of his painted back with the name of his favourite player clearly visible. I wasn't particularly happy with the pictures but thought they would do the job until we could do it again properly. I said as much to him, that we would take some more shots at some stage before the tournament was over.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, in fact the morning after India had won the World Cup in Mumbai I ventured to India's team hotel (a larger building than Tristan and Percy's places put together) and who did I find sitting in the lobby but Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary.
I could break off here and tell you a tale about a young girl who directed me to a paper shop that very morning who wouldn't take any payment for assisting me, apart from some rice and milk for her hungry baby. Believe me I could use 3000 words to tell you all about this incident but suffice to say after I communicated that I'd be happy to buy her child both rice and milk she was quickly seen disappearing with the largest sack of rice and the biggest tin of milk ever produced and I was left to pay the stallholder (a.k.a. her accomplice) a massive amount of rupees. Pity the next person who requests rice and milk from me - they'll get short shrift! She's ruined it for the rest of you.
I met up with Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary later that day, he actually stood me up for the second time but I tracked him down and I took a couple more photos of his painted back, that weren't actually as good as the Chennai ones taken in near dark. I invited him in to my hotel for a drink and we spent the next few hours in my room drinking lemonade and eating pizza. Oh, and looking at the internet for mentions of him, in fact Sudhir just wanted to read and look at pictures of himself. To be completely honest I couldn't get rid of him. That was fine though.
Later I got my taxi driver, Dr Pal** as I called him (yes, I can remember some names of my drivers) to drop Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary at the train station as he was going back to Kolkata (ticketless, by the way) before picking up his bicycle from Saurav Ganguly's house and cycling for three days to get home. Who would have thought that Lemonade and pizza was the choice of flag-waving painted-cyclist fans. Hang on, I've just remembered I took a far better shot of Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary waving his flag from an earlier Bangalore match. I'm posting that photo instead.
You've got to the end, well done. I'm off for a lie down and then a flight to Colombo.
* Other MP3 players are available
** The driver of the taxi was actually D.R. Pal but I thought it hysterical to pretend that I thought he was a qualified doctor, oh, how we laughed!
Specifications: Nikon D3 camera, 600mm, 1/800th sec, f4.5, ISO 640