When you want to explore a foreign country and go beneath its surface charms, you have to, in my opinion, go to three places where locals gather: their homes, temples or churches, and their stadiums. Because, worldwide, this is where people bare their souls. So for me, hosted at a dear Indian friend's home in Chennai during my first visit to India, there was no way I could miss out on going to a cricket match.
When I asked my friends and colleagues for help navigating the online jungle in order to buy a ticket for the Chennai Super Kings match, most of them were shocked. “Too hot, Simone”, “too loud”, “too dangerous – for a European girl”, were some of the concerns they raised. “Better watch it with us on TV!” they said. But I didn't let any of them stop my Saturday evening plans. In the end, with most tickets sold out and giving in just a little to my friends' anxiety, I bought a Rs. 7,000 ticket for the Anna Pavilion. “Ok, Simone, you will survive there, it comes with air-conditioning, dinner and bottled water”, they agreed. And so, I swallowed the hefty price.
Saturday arrived and I rushed to the stadium, diving into the yellow-decked crowd and floating amidst the horde to the entrance gate in sheer joy. But once inside, I had a rude awakening.
I was suddenly trapped inside a silent glass box, with a security-net between me and the players. Only a few of the kids were wearing team colours and the adults were silently whispering to each other — all, while I could see on the huge screen across the field, a virtual needle measuring the noise level of the fans outside. The only sound came from a little TV in a corner of the glass box showing the match — with a 30-second delay.
I survived there for nearly two hours, frustration like a stone in my stomach. A chance chat with one of the security guards revealed that these were the lousiest tickets in the stadium – if you paid for them yourself.
I left the pavilion, with the guard's warning ringing in my ears: “Once you have left the pavilion you cannot come back.” For me though, the game was over anyway.
Once outside, I decided to address one last appeal to the next person I met who seemed generous. All I wanted was a single glimpse of the field from one of the open seats in the stadium. And then, an Indian miracle. A man listened to my Anna-Pavilion-disaster story, silently shook his head, and climbed up with me just a few steps directly into the audience.
Suddenly, I was right there. In the middle of hundreds of fans. I could hear myself screaming: ‘C-S-K”, with them, and jumping to “We will, we will rock you!” A minute or two later, there was a camera person in front of me, filming my adrenaline-driven German enthusiasm. I grinned and waved at the camera, thinking it was for the stadium TV. When my picture appeared on the big screen for a moment, I high-fived a little boy sitting next to me, and there, looking into his excited eyes, I finally found what I had come looking for to the stadium.
Five minutes later, I climbed down again, with my hero guiding me to the exit. I thanked him with a ‘Nandri', one of the two Tamil words I know.
I took my mobile phone out of my bag, eager to tell my friends about my once-in-a-lifetime cricket experience — only to find that they already knew. They had all seen me, waving, jumping and grinning — on national TV!
Simone Kaiser, 33, is a reporter with Der Spiegel in Germany and is currently travelling in India, on an IJP-Fellowship