Back in the 90s when Rupert Murdoch stole Premiership football and started to make everyone pay through the nose for it I remember there was a brief flurry of TV channels trying out different sports to replace the huge gaps they suddenly had in their schedules. For a couple of years the Indian sport kabaddi was a fixture on our screens, and I was vaguely interested in it when it happened to be on. For the life of me I never thought I’d end up in India playing it one day.
In the weeks leading up to today our Indian fixer Neelima has been putting various things together for us, and for this morning’s event she had managed to organise our very own kabaddi game. Our bus dropped us off by the side of a road and we made our way down a track with a derelict mossy bungalow to one side before walking out onto a large sandpit with a stage at one end. Blaring out on a typically ear splitting Indian sound system was a call for locals to come down and witness Inel and I getting our first taste of one of India’s most popular sports (after cricket, obviously).
Two teams put on a display for us and my first impression were “What the hell is going on?” and “Ouch! That looks violent.” Pinned out in the sandpit was tape to mark it out a bit like a tennis court. The teams take it in turns to send in a “raider”, who keeps saying the word “kabbadi” under his breath and tries to tag the other team until he runs out of breath. At this point he has to leave their area, I think before they tag him, but then there seemed to be other times they could tag him, which I didn’t really understand.
Once they’d finished playing, Inel and I took a side each and they began to train us up. No matter how many times we got them to explain the rules to us in broken English we still couldn’t fully grasp what we were supposed to do, and things were no better by the time we launched into the game. Luckily they went easy on us and didn’t grab us round the neck and throw us to the floor as they did to some of their other opponents. Every now and then they pushed Inel and I into the opposite team’s court and we jumped about in a confused fashion, gushing sweat in the midday tropical heat. By the end of it all Inel’s team had won, and neither of us knew why. It all seems like quite good fun though!
Once we’d cleaned all the dirt off us back at the hotel it was time to dress up as French food critic Rene Mangetout, and board a specially chartered Keralan boat, to be taught how to cook traditional Keralan breakfast curry.
Of course, to a lot of Brits the idea of curry for breakfast is decidedly weird (although I have to admit, as a massive curry fan I secretly quite like it). But then our chef probably thought an Englishmen dressing up as a Frenchman, shouting at him while he tried to cook the stuff, was pretty weird as well. The lake was looking absolutely beautiful as we slowly chugged about while Inel got his cookery lesson on deck and I dipped in and out of filming in between reclining on a comfy chair watching it all go by (there was even a bedroom and toilet on board).
By the time we got back to shore I was starting to think that Inel has probably lucked out with the best block of the series so far. There’s something special about this place.