Travel

At home with cricket

J.K. Mahendra at Cricketer's Inn. Photo: R. Ravindran  

You could say that J.K. Mahendra enjoys a game of cricket. Clues to this inference would be a bat signed by Kapil Dev encased in a showcase, or the collection of cricketers’ ties that hang against a wall, or any of the more than a thousand pieces of cricket memorabilia that adorn the former Ranji Trophy player’s bed and breakfast home-stay, Cricketer’s Inn, tucked away in Chesney Lane.

Converting his home into a pilgrimage point of sorts for fans of cricket seemed like the natural path for someone who grew up in a town deeply entrenched in the game. “I was raised in Kannur, Kerala, a place that lived and breathed cricket,” he says, “In those days, it was all we had to do, and so I started playing at the age of 16 and toured Europe with my team. Up until then, I’d been a schoolboy collecting pictures and making cricket scrapbooks, but visiting museums and cricket cafés in England and Sri Lanka showed me the impact the history and culture of the game could have on people. Looking at those collections, the inkling that I could start something of my own grew.”

More than a thousand pieces of meticulously arranged memorabilia are displayed in the three bedrooms, living room and kitchen. There are signed bats and jerseys, collections of balls, shelves stacked with biographies of cricketers’ lives and miniature gnome-like statues of the players. Collecting them was a task that spanned many years and countries, Mahendra explains, saying, “I was invited to play for many clubs, and on my travels around the world I had opportunities to meet collectors and get their insight. I started to collect wherever I went, flea markets, trading with other collectors, meeting cricketers personally to get merchandise signed.” It’s a task that’s taken over 20 years, and “one that requires a lot of patience,” he explains, “Once, I spent a year waiting for the opportunity to have Sachin Tendulkar sign 200 picture prints.”

Quaint, cosy, and with the feel of home, the inn offers breakfast, transportation, wifi, and a poolside cricket bar for guests to lounge in. Running it has been an experience Mahendra describes as enriching, “What makes it fantastic is the number of people I’m able to meet; fans who bring their children to show them around, collectors, and even cricketers like Syed Kirmani and B.S. Chandrasekar. I wanted this to be a place where people come together to celebrate a mutual love for cricket. Sometimes, people who’ve stayed here have become inspired to become collectors themselves.”

Every piece of memorabilia is a cherished part of the home stay, but his most prized possessions are “a bat from the India-Australia match in 1948, signed by both the teams,” he says, “a 100 Coke cans signed by Sachin that adorn the wall in one of the bedrooms, and Dhoni’s gloves that he gave me himself.” Stories lurk in every corner of the house and are a part of every item, like the time, “S. Venkataraghavan, a man who is usually very difficult to access, came up to me at one of the cricket clubs once,” he says. “He handed me his umpire’s coat and told me he knew I would take care of it. It’s moments like those that have made this journey worthwhile.”

For now, Mahendra hopes his home-stay will be a sanctuary for anyone who wants to curl up with one of his 400 cricket books or watch DVDs of recorded old games. “It’s a simple principle, really,” he concludes, “If you love cricket, then you’re home.”

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 5:37:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/step-into-cricket-paradise/article7575149.ece

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