We re in Agartala for the knock-out rounds of the Vijay Hazare trophy. For those who are not aware Agartala - the capital of Tripura - is located in the far east of India. One needs to take a flight from Kolkata and fly over Bangladesh to reach here. We realised its proximity to our neighboring country as soon as we landed. The network for mobile phones, if not selected manually, tends to log onto Grameen, the telecom service provider in Bangladesh. So if you re not careful you might end up paying a lot of money for making and receiving calls under the international roaming rates.
Personally, I like coming to the smaller, lesser known places in this vast land. Only cricket could have given us the opportunity to travel all over and get acquainted with various local cultures. There s something peculiar about the houses (on the outskirts) in this part of the country. Since land is not at a premium the houses are built on a big compound with enough space for a garden. Invariably there are a couple of coconut trees in every compound and the boundary walls are made of bamboo. Those bamboo boundary walls some of the smaller shops have them too - make a statement: we trust each other. It reminds me of the tradition in a small island called Nevis in the Caribbean, where locking your car is taken as an insult by the others.
The houses in the city center are just like any other across the country but the houses in the outskirts tell you a different story.
We were in for some excitement as soon as we landed. Imagine if someone tells you the booking you made at a local hotel has been cancelled and that the local association has booked our rooms in a different hotel. If that someone also happens to be the liaison officer, you tend to believe it. There s only one decent hotel in this city and to be told that we were not to stay in that despite booking well in advance left us quite red-faced. We called up the officials in the Delhi association responsible for making the arrangement and even they weren t aware of the cancellation. We then called the hotel itself and were duly informed that the booking was well in place and they were waiting for our arrival.
We were stunned at this revelation but it didn t end here. We told the liaison officer what had happened and asked him to take us to our preferred hotel but he didn t; in his defence he was just following orders, and he promptly took us to a dingy hotel in the city. We had to argue, and quite vocally too, that we should be taken to our desired destination, and eventually we got our way, but the whole thing smelt of conspiracy. Had we not asked our association and the hotel people we would have been forced to stay in a below par hotel. We struggled to comprehend the reason behind their lie. Perhaps the hotel we were asked to stay in had some arrangement with the local association. But we will never know.
The good thing about playing in a smallish center is the interest it generates in the locals. Even though the ground on which we played Railways was not the ideal ground to field in, we saw the lighter side of our plight. We were having bets on fielding the ball without fumbling, and a misfield wasn t regarded with contempt but as a reason to laugh. To cut it short, it s bumpy and rough. But there were people on the ground to watch cricket and that was a pleasant sight. Even though it wasn t a big number, to people like us who are so used to playing in front of empty stadiums, even a few hundred can make a difference. The local cable channel had been advertising the event and, of course, the entry was free for all.
We have a three day break before the quarter finals and even after taking a day to recuperate from the match fatigue, we have enough time and days to look around and know this place a little better.