After many hiccups, my friend Jagath and I joined the line to enter the stadium in Mohali. It was an opportunity of a lifetime; to watch the live action of India–Pakistan semi-final at the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
At the first security frisk, Jagath’s eyes widened when the police officer threw away his 4-inch plastic comb. Though my green T-shirt with the Australian cricket crest had a somewhat “neutral” appearance, I smelled trouble from the word go.
Checking my identity papers, the officer suspiciously asked, ‘Ah … British passport! From Sri Lanka, eh?’
Two more checks, we finally made it inside.
The high-voltage match between arch-rivals and warring neighbours was a catalyst for cricket diplomacy. The Indian prime minister Dr Singh, his Pakistan counterpart Gilani, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, and a host of other dignitaries were in attendance. The venue resembled a fortress, with hundreds of security personnel deployed both inside and outside the stadium.
Tickets were at a premium. Reportedly, on the black market, the asking rate was exceeding INR 100,000 for a ticket. Weaving our way through a flood of passionate spectators, we reached our stand, the Pavilion Terrace.
Seeing that all the seats had been occupied and many spectators were standing, I asked Jagath, “How do we locate our seats?”
Knowing that I hated to watch games standing, he remained silent. Other than sitting on the aisle steps, the only available space was on the platform adjoining the terrace. As I went there, many policemen – virtually all of them Sikhs – were watching the game from the platform. Tiptoeing to extend my height beyond 5 foot 11 inches, I managed to see flashes of the action through a sea of turbans. Just as my knees were beginning to feel wobbly and unstable, the first innings ended.
During the break, more and more police had converged on the platform, making it impossible to have even a minimal view of the game. I moved back to the terrace and found a place on the aisle steps, barely enough to park my bum. Unaware of my plight, Jagath by this time had managed to sneak into a seat at the far corner of the terrace. The cramped steps with no legroom created further discomfort. With my aching body, I soldiered on for the sake of being part of the momentous occasion.
Minutes later, somebody tried to remove my mini shoulder bag from behind. I looked back and got the shock of my life. A coterie of police officers had surrounded me in the middle of the stand. I stood up without a word. A senior officer took my bag and examined its contents, including the wallet that was inside. In a degrading manner, he removed the items one by one and then held them high for public view. The bag search was followed by a frisk, the fourth one in a matter of a couple of hours. I was fuming inside.
To make matters worse, after checking my ticket, the officer said quite authoritatively, as if to a kindergartener, “You can’t sit on the aisle steps.”
I retorted, “Then show me my seat.”
“Look, I have a ticket for this stand and even the aisle steps are overflowing,” I continued quite loudly to a disinterested individual.
His arrogant and humiliating action made me glare at him and bare my teeth. Fortunately, saner counsel prevailed. My instincts told me to get out of the ground as quickly as possible. After a mobile phone call to Jagath, and despite his request to stay on, I took off. Back in the hotel, with a glass and a half of Old Monk rum, watched the dying moments of the game on TV.
India, meanwhile, won by 29 runs and booked their place in the final against Sri Lanka.
(Extracted from Winds Behind The Willows and a revised version of an article that I wrote for the July 2019 issue of the LIVING magazine.)