At Hawa Mahal, that most famous of Jaipur landmarks, in the heart of the district known as the Pink City, a procession straight out of a mini zoo held up traffic. There were two elephants, decked out in finery at the head, a clutch of camels behind them, and then horses, giving way to people on foot. They were celebrating – quite obviously and noisily, oblivious to the fact that they had brought traffic to a grinding halt – and part of the celebrations was some genius setting off firecrackers. One particularly loud boom, and the elephants had taken it enough, they began to backtrack, and the camels, fearing for their lives, followed suit, sending the whole procession into pandemonium. If he had scripted a scene to capture with his camera, Imran Khan, the West Indian media manager, could not have come up with something better.
Ever since he has been in India, his first time to the country, Imran has been taking pictures and posting them on his blog, named Blue Billion, after the cola advertising campaign that has caught the fancy of the nation, and has people yelling “Ooh aah India, aa-ya India” at matches around the country. He’s not the first foreigner to do that, and he won’t be the last, and already some of his pictures have ruffled feathers, with some Indians writing in to his blog complaining that he was only taking pictures of poverty and filth. Imran’s been around a bit, though, and it takes more than a few comments of this kind to deter him.
“If I came to India a hundred times and never saw the Taj Mahal it wouldn’t bother me,” he said. “I like to look at people – as they go about their everyday lives. That’s what really interests me.” What interests Imran is the exact opposite of every stereotype people might carry about West Indians. If you’re looking for a party animal intent on a few stiff Pina Coladas and long nights at glitzy nightclubs, you’ll find the opposite. Imran does not drink, doesn’t particularly enjoy going out partying, or even out to meals. “Give me a television and the Internet, and I’d be happy to stay in,” he says.
But if you think he’s one of those guys who tours and learns little about the culture of the places he’s visiting think again. It’s just that he prefers to be out with his camera, snapping away, far from the socialising. And Jaipur would have been the perfect city for him and his lens, given the richness and variety of the visuals on offer. But unfortunately, his team is staying at the Gold Palace hotel – a good 28 kilometres away from the heart of Jaipur. Why anyone would book them into a place closer to China than the Sawai Man Singh Stadium, is anyone’s guess.
Trips to India are often painted as a homecoming of sorts for people of Indian origin, and Imran, who is from Guyana, traces his mother’s forefathers back to India. Imran is very much West Indian, but this has not stopped him from marking the visit to India as a very important one personally. “This trip has changed me,” he says. “I live in a three bedroom house back in Guyana, use one as a bedroom, another as an office and the third just to store stuff. And I often complain about not having enough space. If I ever do that again I hope someone shoots me.”
The next stop on the agenda is Pakistan, a country many people find a nightmare to stay at for any length of time because they can’t get a drink of alcohol, and because things aren’t quite the same as what they are back home in the West. Why, Ian Botham quite famously, and insultingly, called it a place he would send his mother-in-law to. “I can’t wait to get to Pakistan,” says Imran. “I’d like to come back to India for a month, when I’m not working, just me and my camera, that would be great, but I am looking forward to Pakistan.”
The Indian board does not believe in media managers, and when they do appoint someone on an ad-hoc basis to do the job, he usually ends up doing more damage than good. Imran has come to India, and learned from the country. It’s a pity the richest cricket board in the world could not learn from him at the same time.
Anand Vasu is a former associate editor at Cricinfo