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Flying blues & a chilly 'homecoming'

I swore I wouldn?t travel to England via Paris. I hadn?t forgotten my experience of being treated like a terrorist last year, writes Aakash Chopra.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2006 19:42 IST

 

The one thing I swore this year around was that I wouldn’t travel to England via Paris. I hadn’t forgotten my experience of being treated like some shady drug dealer/terrorist/evil psychopath last year at Charles de Gaulle and then, on the way back, having Air France misplace my bags.

It took seven months of incessant nagging, fighting and what have you not for me to get any compensation. Which, Air France grandiosely announced, was a “goodwill gesture” because actually, it seems, I wasn’t entitled to compensation as the fine print more or less demanded that people travel around with bills in anticipation of their baggage being lost.

The most disturbing part of all this to me was that I got some compensation only because I knew people who knew people in the Civil Aviation Ministry. If I hadn't known anyone, I was a goner! What on earth do people with no pull go through while fighting for their rights? Get stomped on I presume.

Anyway, I decided to fly with Lufthansa this year via Frankfurt, hoping to get a feel of the country hosting the football World Cup. As expected, Lufthansa, the official carrier, was high on Cup fever. For starters, they’ve got a big football on the boarding pass and later, I got to see a big football on the noses of a few aircraft.

Caught up in the spirit of things and with time to spare, I had a long chat with an exuberant flight purser. With typical German practicality, he informed me that while this would probably be the greatest event on God’s good earth, Germany didn’t stand a chance of winning the Cup.

More specifically, I was told that the football on the plane’s nose was an expensive affair and restricted to a few elite aircraft! Newcastle vs Newcastle I reached Manchester on a chilly Thursday well before the season’s start but I was in early to attend the wedding of an Indian friend.

This was the first time I’d seen an Indian wedding in England and it was quite an experience. A Punjabi do, it was to be held in Newcastle, which made me quite happy, as Newcastle will be “home” for next five months. That happy feeling soon evaporated as I learnt there are actually two Newcastles here, about 200 miles apart. And of course, the wedding was at the other one!

It was a lavish function, with familiar rituals but kind of in miniature, as everything that is spread over a week in India was compressed into a day. Some things though, were dead similar -- the more you spent, the bigger the status symbol, women flaunted hugely expensive outfits and jewellery, and of course, the food. They even had a horse (though we have mare in India) and a dhol.

What was nice to see were English faces, not only in attendance but also obviously living it up. It says a lot about their attitude now as far as Indians here are concerned. It’s not just their acceptance of a “foreign” culture but also how they’re trying to be part of that culture as and when needed.

My final journey was homeward, to the other Newcastle, and I learnt again to never judge a book by its cover. I’d been given a 1-bedroom terraced apartment near the town centre, old Victorian houses converted into flats.

The outside seemed a bit shabby and my first reaction was disappointment. I’d expected better from my club (Hem Heath, the same club I played with last year) but then, the interior brought back the smiles. It was really nicely done up -- coming back to the same place, to the warmth of the same people, is always a bonus.

England meanwhile, has had a terrible, extended winter and the aftermath is still visible. It’s been raining through the week and just being outdoors is dodgy, forget playing cricket! But play, we will.

There’re quite a few Indians in my league this year. Sriram (TN), TP Singh (Rlys), Gagandeep Singh (Punjab), Sanjay Gill (Rajasthan) and Rajeev Kumar (Jharkhand) to name a few. It’s good to see the increasing popularity of Indian cricketers here. I hope all of us have a decent season and more pertinently, enjoy our stay and make a few good friends. Being here is more than just the cricket.


This is the third year running that the writer would be writing for HT about life in England over the cricketing summer. He can be reached on googly1909@yahoo.com