Damned Fool Global Cultureby Telford Vice / 04.03.2011
“Country roads, take me home …” It shouldn’t happen in a pub. Certainly not in a pub in downtown Delhi, cricket capital of the world. And it absobloodylutely should not happen live, as sung by sweet voices and strummed on a guitar by actual human beings who seem entirely Indian. But there they were, six Indians, doing Denver. John Denver. In Delhi.
“To the place, I belong …”
They might have been the only six members of a nation of 1.25-billion who were not obsessed with the match between India and England flickering above their very heads on the TV.
“West Virginia, mountain mama …”
Turns out they’re the Khan family, and they do this at least twice a month.
“Thank you for the music,” I say, “erm, that’s not a request.”
But they do know Waka Waka.
A few days later, with the invaluable help of a local, Dipender, who spends much of a week showing us some of his favourite parts of a city he is justifiably proud of, we make it through the entirely organised madness of Delhi Railway Station to take the Jan Shadabdi to Chandigarh.
In the five hours of clickety-clackety, airconditioned, comfortable serenity that follows, there is time to read the papers, catch up with Orhan Pamuk and his love letter to Istanbul, watch acres of green farmland roll by, plug my laptop into the on-board power supply, and wonder if Dipender will be quite so besotted with his city after a few years of life as the corporate lawyer he is a few exams away from becoming.
We disembark in the heart of Punjab, land of the Mughals, Banda Singh Bahadur – who made Che Guevara look like a Sunday School teacher – and many, many maharajahs. Into a subterranean restaurant we venture to gain enlightenment from supping on dahl makhani, which is cooked from one misty morning to another, and longer, before being served. “It is the most special thing in our restaurant,” the owner says with reverent breathlessness. The room is promisingly crowded with Sikhs, each crested by a more regal turban than his neighbour. The dahl makhani is served with the respect it deserves. It is sublime.
A furry falsetto tears loose from the sound system. It’s the Bee Gees: “How deep is your love?” Somewhere, somehow, it’s heartwarming to know that bad taste travels well. But, verily, this damned fool global culture has a shitload to answer for. In Delhi, you will not struggle to acquire a Heineken, a pair of Levis, or a decent espresso. Aishwarya Rai gazes down from the sign above the Longines store in Connaught Place – what Sandton is to Joburg – just as alluringly as she does in any other uber mall. Fancy adding a Rolls Royce to your garage? There’s a dealership on Ashoka Road, Sahib.
So there is reassurance rather than frustration when, in the entirely comfortable confines of the restaurant at the Majestic Hotel in Chandigarh, an espresso arrives looking suspiciously like a cappuccino, right down to the chocolate powder on top of the froth.
“Umm, sorry, that’s a cappuccino. I ordered an espresso.”
“Of course, sir,” says the waiter, moustache atwitch with puzzlement, as he whisks the offending order away.
He returns a few minutes later. Another cappuccino looms large and lactose on his tray. The irreconcilable differences between our accents must be to blame. Surely.
“I’m sorry, sir,” says the waiter as he proffers the second cappuccino. “Cappuccino is not available. Only espresso.”
And, as far as he is concerned, the cappuccino he is undeniably bringing me is undeniably an espresso. I look over both of the waiter’s shoulders, but I can’t see John Cleese lurking anywhere. For a moment I wonder what would happen if I try to order a cappuccino. But I end up accepting, happily, this inversion of what I had thought was the truth.
Reckon I did a better job of that than England did of swallowing the bitter truth of their tie with India followed, even less believably, by their loss to Ireland. Even at the best of times, England captain Andrew Strauss has about him the look of a man wandering lonely as a sheep in an abattoir. So when England squandered a winning position against the Indians, Strauss was about ready for the roasting pan. When England floundered and finally foundered against the Irish – who were superbly spearheaded by Kevin O’Brien’s century – Strauss looked like minced meat headed for a sausage casing.
But while the fighting Irish have done their bit to keep alive the cause of the minnows whom the International Cricket Council wants to cull from future World Cups, the other small fry are clearly out of their depth. The Netherlands, for instance, began promisingly against the Poms before taking the kind of hidings you wouldn’t wish on a screaming six-year-old bouncing on the seat next to you in a Spur. The West Indies, who are barely above minnowhood themselves these days, thrashed the Dutch by 215 runs before onse eie Proteas moered
them by 231 runs.
But, as we speak, the Canadians(’ay), have dismissed Pakistan for a lowly 184. Here’s hoping that Pakistan sent their batting order out there and not their betting order. What are South Africa’s chances of going all the way and finally winning their second ICC trophy? Despite big wins against the Windies and the Dutch, there’s no telling yet how the tournament might pan out. Besides, we’ve been here, done that, and ultimately been bliksemmed.
Sunday’s game against England in Chennai should reveal significantly more about the state of Graeme Smith’s team. But you should know, dear fellow Seffrican, that so far they have gone about their business with a refreshing ruthlessness. There is no emotion. There is no panic. There is not even much in the way of passion. They are not unlike big, green zombies out there. I’m not sure I would want my team winning matches like that. But it’s better than losing. Just ask the English. And it’s early days yet. Meanwhile, the Indians are being assailed from all sides for not being able to defend 338 against England, and Sri Lanka lost their nerve and the match against Pakistan. Australia? They’re circling like sharks waiting for the Titanic to sink. That’s a scary thought, and it should be.