Sri Lanka, cricket and Murali - a trip long ago
It all took me back to the summer of 2004, when me and my family went to Sri Lanka on vacation. The first thing that struck you about this island nation was the green, the natural beauty. The people (those who spoke English) were very friendly, and the food amazing. Our spirits were not at all dampened by the fact that it was Buddha Purnima time, and in a nation with a strong Buddhist heritage and following, that meant no alcohol was served anyplace (though I was still in my pre-alcohol days). Our hotel was also very close to the Presidential Palace, which meant seeing guards with machine guns from the hotel window.
After two days in Colombo, and a trip south to Hikkaduwa to see coral reefs (which sadly were destroyed in the tsunami), we moved inland to Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. Our cab driver, a pleasant man who spoke English with a German accent, and spoke a lot, was named Silva.
Our second day in Kandy, as we wait for my family to come down to the hotel entrance, Silva struck up a conversation with me.
Silva: So what's your name, son?
Silva: Sanat? Sanat? Wow, man! Yours is the second most famous name in Sri Lanka. After Murali of course. You just tell people everywhere what your name is, and everything will be free. You will get discounts, freebies, galore. Sanat!! You are a superstar, son. You are famous.
Silva: So you studying, lad? Where?
Me: Trichy... Engineering... in Tamil Nadu
Silva: Don't say that aloud. Being known as a Tamil or speaking Tamil isn't the smartest thing to do in this country!!
It was shocking to hear this, especially since I had hoped to use my rudimentary grasp of the language to get around the island. I was going to ask the chap about Murali and how is he so respected in spite of his ethnicity and all that, but it was time to leave, and the question went unasked.
In Nuwara Eliya (which is a beautiful hill station and was very foggy and cloudy and pleasant even in the peak of summer), we were shopping for curios, when my father came across this section with mementos of Sri Lanka's World Cup win in 1996. We ended up buying a nice wooden showpiece, with a bronze bat having the autographs of all the winning team members, and another bronze plaque with the scoreboard in the final. And I remember the big grin the shopkeeper gave us when he took it to the cash counter, as if saying, "Yes, that was our moment of glory. Glad to see you know about it."
Our last day on the island, we checked out of the hotel, but then had a long wait before our flight back to India. Silva took us to a hotel near the airport, where we lounged next to the pool eating french fries and sipping cold coffees. And as we do a lot of the time, my father and me started a discussion on cricket.
Waiter: Sir, I overheard you speaking about cricket. If you like, there is an empty lounge room you can sit in. It is more comfortable and you can see the test match too.
Us: Oh wow. That would be great. Which match is this?
Waiter: It's Sri Lanka v/s Zimbabwe in Harare. Murali needs 2 wickets to get the world record.
So we move to the lounge, and watch the match in peace (we still had a fair few hours before we needed to go to the airport). And we were in Sri Lanka when the man got his world record (Mluleki Nkala c. Jayawardene b. Muralitharan) and we would see the rejoicing among the hotel staff. Plenty of fireworks and celebrations were on sight all the way to the airport. As we proceeded to security check, one of our bags set up a big buzz.
Guard: What's in your bag? Something metallic and big... open it. Open it.
All this while, since my first conversation with Silva, I had seen little sign of any Tamils (who, I gauged, were concentrated in other areas). And from what little I knew of the LTTE and all that, plus Silva's words, I knew that there were big issues on the island. And here was a man who stood above it all. A nation torn by war. And united by cricket. Thanks to one man!!