Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In the Taj

I woke up and realised I'd forgotten to mention, in my India travelogue piece from last week, a minor triumph in the Taj Hotel, Bombay, after a meal in the Japanese restaurant:

Bibi had gone to the bathroom, so I lingered near the reception. A little bored, I went to the internal phone and picked it up. 'Can I speak to Mr. Singh please?' I began. 'Which room number Sir?' the receptionist promptly replied. 'Hmmm, I'm not sure. I think he said it was 350.' 'I'm sorry Sir, but we don't have a room number 350. Please, may I suggest you call him to confirm he is staying here?' I felt a blank ahead of me. I put the phone down. I need to practise the subtle art of fabrication more often. I often fantasize about creating grand fictional existences for myself when we meeting people on planes and trains, but end up copping out with predictable truthhoods.

I walked away from the phone. A hugely tall man came sauntering down the corridor and picked up the phone I had just been using. His torso was massively long and wide. He wore a houndstooth sports jacket. I marvelled at his size. I tried to listen in on his conversation, but his voice was too baritone and quiet. Bibi appeared down the corridor. Just then, the tall man hooked up the phone and turned. I felt a hint of recognition, my brain scrambling through an invisible image directory. I turned to smile at Bibi and asked him how much taller he was than I - and then I walked close to him to allow her to compare. Just then, I found the name I was looking for. I turned and looked up into the guy's face: a long black face with greying hair. "You're Joel Garner. Wow! You're one of my heroes!" Joel smiled a sweet and slightly shy smile. I'm not sure he expected to be recognised in this place, so far from home. I noticed that there was a woman to his side, and an older man on the other side. I carried on my gushing, 'I remember watching you at Old Trafford, in the mid 1980s, with Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding. Remember - the day you broke the English guy's arm with a bouncer?' I struggle to remember whose arm had been broken by the hurtling ball. 'Oh yes - you mean Trevor x?' (I can't remember the surname of the guy he mentioned). I didnt mean this guy. I shook his hand. Even though I am tall and have big hands, his hands were much bigger, completely enclosing mine. He smiled a broad smile, as did the man next to him. I noticed that his companion had a slightly expectant air. It was only afterwards that I realised it was Wes Hall - a glorious fast bowler before my time. I wish I'd known his face well enough to acknowledge him as well.

Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Michael Holding. Three of the greatest fast bowlers of all time, playing in the same team at the same time in the 1980's. We sat there, that sunny Manchester day, a family picnic at a test-match, surrounded by West Indian fans blowing trumpets, ringing bells, banging drums and singing. At one point, Michael Holding came to field near us. The crowd began singing spontaneously, 'Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah!' in a lulling powerful refrain. After a few choruses, Michael, with his back to us, mimicked the rowing of a boat, bringing the crowd into a roar of approval. There was something about Michael Holding - his balletic grace as he ran up to bowl - an effortless balance of energy. And then the release - the lightening speed of the ball (almost too fast for the eye) as it flew towards the batsman. And then there was Joel, 6' 10" and fast, developing perhaps the steepest bounce in the history of cricket. There was an advert on tv at the time, with the camera at stump level as Joel came up to bowl. It was a ferocious, frightening sight, to have this huge body, seemingly too large and too close, hurtle a hard projectile of leather towards you at over 90mph. England didn't stand a chance. It is every cricket lovers dream that the West Indies team will rise again, and a new Malcolm Marshall, a new Michael Holding and a new Joel Garner will be found...


Anonymous,  6:03 pm  

Maybe, maybe, just maybe the upcoming world cup would see a resurrection of the West Indian team...

Anonymous,  6:14 am  

lovely post. i have the same fantasys about making up all sorts of exciting lies to tell the people beside me on the plane, but I can never quite get up the gumption to do it.

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