Roving reporter

The peace of an emerald isle

There is something charmingly peaceful about Sri Lanka. Nagraj Gollapudi reports from the emerald isle



A friendly greeting is on offer when vistiors arrive in Sri Lanka © Suresh KK, Mid-Day
There is something charmingly peaceful about Sri Lanka. I am immediately greeted. "Ayubhava" says a tall young woman, who is clad in a light green coloured sari, as I board the long-delayed flight to Colombo from the Mumbai airport. The twinkle in the flight attendant's eyes raises my spirits somewhat. I am relieved to be finally starting my first overseas tour as a journalist.
It had been a treacherous three days prior to boarding the flight. Mumbai, India's commercial capital and my shelter, had been brought to a standstill after having borne nature's wrath. A never-ending, torrential downpour on July 26 had flooded the city's streets - hundreds lost their lives and thousands of homes were shattered, instilling fear in millions. Driving to the airport, the wreckage the flood had brought was piled up alongside garbage, neither of which could be collected due to the flooded roads. The cops were busy policing the streets to rubbish the rumours about dam walls being broken, and a tsunami hitting Mumbai. In this gloom, my thoughts were far away from cricket. It was sad.
But once on board the plane, my mind's focus shifted to the work at hand. I had to put on my thinking hat, and decided upon the green one. It was eerie that I had travelled around the same time last year to Sri Lanka on holiday. But I had very fond memories of that trip, and those memories of Sri Lanka were making me feel comfortable even before the plane landed. Adaptation and accommodation is key to a tourist, yet when on a work assignment it is easy to find oneself impatient to foreign ways.
So with familiarity in the kit bag, I stepped once more on to Sri Lankan soil. Immediately, the warmth of the locals, with their smiling faces and pleasant voices, greeted me. Sri Lanka, before the tsunami tragedy last year, was one of the hot tourist destinations and one of its most appealing factors is its people. Sadly, another of nature's curses had played its hand in the Emerald Isle completely losing its glitter. Donation boxes everywhere are a sad reminder of the tragedy. The dollar, which in 2004 was trading at 120 Sri Lankan rupees has now come down to 99.3. Most of the country's population depended on tourism as a breadwinner, and today few tourists feel comfortable travelling here, but still the peaceful Lankans continue to move forward.
Another attractive thing about this country is its neatness. Both men and women dress up in an elegant fashion, which complements and highlights their calm demeanour. The roads, most of which slither through the Lankan countryside, are bumpy at times but still in good condition, making the journey through the country very pleasant.
Greg Chappell, the Indian coach, has long been the servant of the mind and he would have been very happy to have been booked in the nature resort in Dambulla for the first part of the tri-series. Situated amid forest, the Culture Club is a mind-body-soul-healing place popular with stressed-out westerners who enjoy its ayurvedic techniques. And though the Indians are fresh in mind and ready for the new season, under a new coach, the hotel's earthly settings may just sooth and calm the nerves at the end of a long evening.
The cottages and chalets are designed in hut-shaped structures with thatched coconut-leaf roofs; attendants dressed in ochre-coloured kurtas and lungis look more like ashramites; old women with smiling faces are beating drums in an African style rhythm called rabana. Television is restricted to very few rooms but with no satellite television (good to reduce distraction). All these facilities lead to a peaceful, calming atmosphere with few distractions. But there are certain leisure activities, like pool tables. where I see the young minds of Mahendra Dhoni and Suresh Raina concentrating on handling the cues.
Then there is the experienced head of VVS Laxman who decides to concentrate on some decent reading, and enquires about a book when he meets an Indian journalist whose house is famous for its vast array of cricket literature. Since the journalist doesn't have a book at hand, I volunteer to lend Mike Cowards's The Chappell Era - Cricket in the '70s. Actually the book is not mine; it was borrowed from you now know who.
Cricket is slowly taking the centre stage. My driver, Mahesh enquires, "Is Ganguly playing?" I can't read his face, nor tell if he is pleased or not when I tell him that Ganguly will only miss the first two games of this series. One of the domestic TV channels is promoting the event as one of the biggest ever. The locals - despite being Bollywood fans, even if they don't understand or speak any Hindi - still hold the Muralis, the Jayasuriyas and the Vaases as their idols.
Mahesh smiles as he says Shah Rukh Khan is the popular hero, and on another note asks if Murali's Indian wife is a doctor. Kumara Sangakkara, another emerging and popular Sri Lankan cricketer in a recent interview to Wisden Asia Cricket, said how moved he was when, on a relief visit to the tsunami affected region, the survivors enquired about the players' safety. "They had a lot of concern for the other human beings, and forgot their own suffering for a while. That was very moving."
The masses and their heroes feel for each other in this land. It makes us aware of our responsibility to others and society. I started this trip yesterday with my mind occupied by misery. As my thinking cap is keeping me positive, the emerald isle moves me.

Nagraj Gollapudi is sub-editor of Wisden Asia Cricket