The ongoing India-Sri Lanka cricket series is a good occasion for me to bring my two decades of journalistic experience to basically showoff about my trips there. I will also reveal, space permitting, how I sneaked into Muthiah Muralitharan’s house in Kandy to meet his wife when he was not there.
Sri Lanka has two of the most scenic cricket stadiums in the world, at Galle and Kandy, and to watch cricket there is one of the beautiful ways to spend an afternoon mostly sleeping, because, let us face it, most of the time it is Sri Lanka that does well in those conditions. You may want to — I will use a technical word here — bullshit that when Mahela Jayawardene or Kumara Sangakkara bats it is pure poetry, but l can tell you no player from a ‘rival’ team is ever beautiful to a fan. Also, all poetry is generally overrated.
When I first went to Galle, the stadium that had moved cricket writers to wax eloquent, picturesquely placed as it is at the mouth of emerald green Indian Ocean, was a scene of — goosebumps — total desolation. See, I was there in the aftermath of tsunami of 2004 that had wreaked havoc in the same manner as Sanath Jayasurya had against Manoj Prbahakar in the 1996 World Cup.
But even as the stadium was in a shambles, it was not impossible to fall in love with the location, because as a trained journalist with the eye for detail, I could still see that the beer cost was still cheap there. Galle offers what a discerning traveller mostly looks for: A good selection of liquor.
The nearby famed Dutch fort, which provides one of the spectacular views of the stadium, had stoically withstood the onslaught of the relentless tsunamic tides. The ramparts of the fort stands as a sentinel of time, asking the eternal question troubling the humans: What does ‘ramparts’ actually mean?
The stadium at Kandy holds out a different kind of attraction. Named Asgiriya stadium, it sits amidst thick trees and in a setting that we have to describe as, according to the Geneva Convention of travel and tourist brochure writers, ‘sylvan’.
Kandy is hilly a place and is well known for the temple that houses Buddha’s tooth relic. It should not be for me to make any comment on another religion, especially when my religion itself has plenty of even more bizarre practices, but tooth as a sacred relic is a bit odd. Naturally, it provided plenty of fodder for tasteless jokes that we journos have an endless capacity to produce.
When we (a bunch of journos from Tamil Nadu on a junket) were there at the Asgiriya, no match was on, but when we insisted that we be let in, the security guard had one look at us — remember the Sri Lankan Tamils issue was still a raging one then — and immediately opened the gates for us. Which was surprising considering the fact that here at Chennai we have had spectators denied permission of entry for — true story this — wearing black T-shirt.
Kandy is the hometown of Sri Lanka’s most decorated cricketing hero Muthiah Muralitharan, and at the Asgiriya Stadium they probably put at least 4 wickets against his name in the wickets column even before he came on to bowl. I suspect that they still do when he is no longer playing there. (Fun Fact: Murali has taken most of his wickets after retirement).
Kandy and Muralitharan’s fame was such that we journos decided that we had to pay a visit to his house there. We were told that any one in Kandy’s streets will be able to give us directions to his place. So we stopped a total stranger and asked him, ‘can you guide us to Muralitharan’s house?’ And before the sentence could be completed, the stranger spontaneously replied, “no speak English”. But luckily — it will be great if locals in every country emulated this stranger we encountered in Kandy — he spoke good Tamil.
Getting directions from him we landed in front of Murali’s door. But it turned out that he was away in Colombo. While the rest of the media gang went back, a journo from a Tamil magazine and I decided that with Murali not around, we will at least try and speak to Murali’s wife, who actually hails from Chennai, a scion of a popular doctor family here. We sent word through the security, and before long, Murali’s parents and his wife were at the gate to take us inside. Seriously, we were not prepared for this kind of hospitality. We were given tea and biscuits as they chatted amiably with us. For our part, we maintained our decency and did not take any selfies with all those trophies overflowing in his drawing room cupboard. Pretty professional, you’d think us to be. Indeed yes. But it also helped that selfies were not a thing as camera phones were at their infancy then.
Interview done, we bade goodbye to Murali’s wife, who said she was eager to read what we will write about her and the family. But, hopefully, she didn’t get to read what the Tamil magazine had put out. Prone to sensationalism, the magazine had published the report under the title: “With Murali’s wife, when Murali was away”.
If Sri Lanka ever decides to launch strikes at India, I will understand.