Nostalgic in Kolkata

Our correspondent heads to the city of his childhood, via MS Dhoni's home town

Arun Venugopal
The Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, May 13, 2011

The Victoria Memorial, one of Kolkata's iconic monuments  •  Getty Images

May 20
Early-morning flight. Panic attack. With my system having tuned itself to ignoring alarm clocks for years now, I make a mental note not to sleep the night before. Despite every effort, nod off at around 4am. Thankfully the cab driver's persistent phone calls wake me up.
Exit Ranchi airport to sound of trumpets and drums. Like to believe the welcome is meant for me, but discover it is a group of people shouting political party slogans and waving flags. Reach the hotel. Head out to the JSCA International Stadium in a bit. Or so I think.
The autorickshaw driver is halfway into ferrying me to the hockey stadium before we hurriedly discuss what a cricket stadium means. I am told I should ask for "Dhurva Stadium". Look for the West Gate to exchange my e-ticket for the real deal. The walk proves long and the search seems endless. I finally set my eyes on an unfinished building with a hole-in-the-wall counter. It bears the sign "Box Office".
The stadium is a charming, modern structure with grass embankments mimicking the ones in South African stadiums. Take in the expansive dressing rooms. Meet MS Dhoni's coach, Chanchal Bhattacharya. Am now armed with a few Dhoni anecdotes.
No transport in sight. More walking to do. Trudge along for about five kilometres on a road lit only by the stadium's floodlights. Finally a gentleman responds to my request for a lift. "You only need to wave your hand to get a lift in Ranchi," he says. He asks me what I do.
"I am a journalist here for the cricket."
"Where do you work?"
"Is that a news channel?"
May 21
Make another visit to the stadium. Chennai Super Kings have arrived to train. There are only about 50 policemen and a few journalists gathered to watch. A pre-game press conference is scheduled as well. No surprises seeing Stephen Fleming walk in. He has over the years become the de facto team representative at media interactions.
Get back to the hotel squeezed in the front seat of an auto along with three other men, driver included. Listen to a couple of drunks jabber away incoherently behind me.
May 22
Game day. Chennai Super Kings v Royal Challengers Bangalore. Expectedly more fans in yellow than red. Auto driver points to a road that apparently leads to Dhoni's house, and says: "He must be sleeping at home now."
Roads leading to the stadium are clogged with humanity and automobiles. No signposts telling us where to enter or exit. Finally, upon reaching the South Gate, I am, along with a few hundred people, shoved in like cement into a mixer.
Meet a couple of Americans, Sam and Bob, who are curious to watch a game of cricket after spending hours on the internet reading up on it. We swap notes on the parallels between cricket and baseball. They seem particularly fascinated by fast bowlers knocking stumps out of the ground, and wonder how they might fare as baseball pitchers.
They are amused by the dancing cheerleaders, firecrackers going off after wickets, and the DJ prompting crowds to scream their lungs out. "Gee, it's just like what happens back home. People in stadiums are always told when to cheer," Sam says.
May 23
My last day in Ranchi. Try out some local street food. The leeti grows on you; it's a dry ball of wheat served with tomato paste, tamarind water and onions. Wash it down with a porridge of saatu, perhaps the best comfort drink I have had in some time.
Dread the seven-hour flight to Kolkata via to New Delhi. Meet Mandeep Singh of Royal Challengers at the airport. He calls Daniel Vettori a "class bandha [chap]. Hamesha shaant rahte hain [He is always calm]." Admits to having been worried initially about Virat Kohli's infamous temper. "But he was fine actually. He shows his passion on the field, but was generally pretty calm."
May 24
In Kolkata. The city where I spent the first eight years of my life. The city I haven't visited once since I left in 1996. Flush with memories, many of which are connected with the sights and smells of the city. Filled with regret at having forgotten all the Bengali I knew.
Go back to the house I once lived in. On Palm Avenue. Ballygunge. Astonished that things haven't changed one bit. Not the small bylanes. Or the even smaller pathway where I would embarrass myself attempting to play cricket. Can't meet my childhood friends, who are out of town.
Focus back on cricket. The big final, or is it really? Mumbai Indians dismantle Super Kings in a hopelessly dull game. The sticky, hot mess that is the Kolkata weather makes things seem worse than they are. The full house at Eden Gardens, clearly bored and tired, only makes sporadic noises. Have to contend with incessant chatter between two siblings seated behind me about the Big Bang theory, matter and no matter. Nightmares of my miserable time with physics at school return.
May 25
Try to get an appointment for an interview with Jagmohan Dalmiya. Call his number and mistake his voice for someone else's. He patiently explains that it is indeed him. There have been reports about him being unwell. Assures me he is okay now. The interview, though, will have to wait.
May 26
Visit the Victoria Memorial. Simply blown away by its sheer magnificence and the coming together of architectural styles. Not much of a shopper, but platform purchases at the Esplanade are fulfilling, as are long walks along the Rabindra Sarobar.
May 27
Go to Dakshineshwar, in the North 24 Parganas District. Another fond childhood memory. The ferry ride on the Hooghly River to Belur Math reignites a long-forgotten thrill.
Off to Gariahat to visit my alma mater. Again, hasn't changed one bit. The same box-like structure with a liberal spray of red and yellow paint.
Go back to the Palm Avenue house. Second time lucky as my friends are in town, and a long evening is spent nursing Cartoon Network-filled memories of two decades ago. Walk past the house of a distinguished erstwhile neighbour, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the former chief minister of West Bengal.
Happy that most things on my list are ticked, but no clue about my first crush at school. Next time.

Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo