I had arrived in town a few hours ago and had asked a rickshaw driver if he knew of a gym. He said that he did know of one. So, 10 minutes later, we are hurtling down some back lane. Well, experience tells me that gyms are rarely situated in back-lane residential areas in the poorer parts of town. I am right.
I am taken into a back yard to inspect the ‘gym’: a pair of antiquated dumbbells, a rickety bench made from decaying wood and a pull-up bar attached to a wall. It’s a wasted journey and we make our way back to the street, wade through chickens and climb back into the rickshaw. The rickshaw driver then tells me he knows of another gym. After having just seen his version of what constitutes a gym, I'm a little weary, but agree on letting him take me there.
This time the place is in a more central location, on a main road, and actually advertises itself as being a gym on the hoarding above the entrance. Hope at last. I enter and see that the place seems to have the total population of Hospet crammed into a matchbox of a room. The owner tells me that it is least busy at about six in the morning. Six in the morning! I never knew that such a time of day existed.
So, the next day, I arrive at the gym, yes, at six. Someone who introduces himself as ‘Krishna’ tells me his cousin is working in Coventry in England and his name is Vijay Kumar. To help me out a little, he informs me that Vijay Kumar lives in Paradise Street and works in the Bay of Bengal restaurant on Warwick Street.’ He looks a little crushed because of my ignorance about the matter.
“Do you like cricket?”, he asks suddenly. I tell him that I find it boring. But that doesn't stop him from telling me that Nassar Hussein, the former England captain, was born in Chennai and then reels off the names of the full English, Australian and Indian cricket teams and recent results involving the teams in question.
An hour later, I leave and travel back to my hotel in an auto-rickshaw. We wade through an assortment of farmyard animals as the driver takes a short cut through the back lanes, and pass some boys playing cricket in the street. Back on a main thoroughfare, a huge hoarding shows Sachin Tendulkar beaming and holding a bottle of cola.
A week later, I am lodged in a hotel in Chennai near Chepauk Stadium where India are playing Australia as part of a test series. The worker in the local restaurant asks if I am going to watch the game. I tell him that I don't like cricket very much, but that Nassar Hussein was born in Chennai, and reel off the names of the whole Indian cricket team. At night, I toss and turn and have trouble going to sleep. I begin to recite the names of the India cricket team then the Australian. Half way through the English team, I fall asleep. In India there is no way to escape cricket. But for me, it has its uses. It’s the stuff of dreams when sleep is tardy and nights are long.