'A 12th Man's Travel'
There were days when Bengali-speaking people in the subcontinent would be thrilled with the words 'bilat ferot'. In those days, the fortunate ones to return from England got special attention from the society.
Obviously the scenario is totally different these days because now people from almost all walks of life are visiting not only that particular country but also the world over and then go on to say the very popular modern slogan "The world is now a global village".
But when an offer came to a novice like me to visit England, the thrill could not be any less than the old days. As a sports reporter, and of course, as a member of a typical middle-class family, it was like a dream come true for me to visit the birthplace of cricket.
Here I want to present a small piece for the readers that I think will give them an idea about my rookie stature. When I first disclosed the news to my family, the first reaction came from my seven-year-old nephew as he assured me that there was nothing to worry about foreign tours including plane journeys.
"Don't worry Barka (elder uncle). It is very simple," said my beloved nephew, for whom it was like a trip to Mymen-singh from Dhaka.
That is why, believe it or not, despite the excitement I got a jolt, though mild, sometime in late August in 2004 when I was asked to get mentally prepared for the England tour to cover the ICC Champions Trophy. And mind it, it was the second biggest cricket extravaganza on earth after the World Cup.
All true that the visit meant a lot to me including an air journey but there was a reason for me to receive hoof-beating in my heart as well as the excitement.
Until then my only experience to go abroad was a visit to Nepal, which I think is one of the most beautiful places on earth, for covering the 1999 SAF Games from a different institution and no doubt, anything first is always special and I am also no exception.
It was only icing on the cake as my first foreign tour saw Bangladesh go all the way to the SAF football glory, which once looked a far-reaching dream for the country's sports lovers. And the success could also bring something to cheer about for my then boss, who had made a few futile SAF Games trips before, as we had already started to call him a 'kufa' (one who brings bad luck).
I, however, was not so lucky on my second trip, that of England, because of the Bangladesh cricket team's pathetic show in the competition.
Bangladeshi supporters enjoy the Champions Trophy match against West Indies at the Rose Bowl in Southampton in September, 2004
Whatever it was, it took me a long time to get the much-cherished second trip to cover a sporting event, though of a different kind. And the prelude to my passage to England was as interesting as impossible to erase from my memory because of the dramatic fashion it happened in.
Let me tell you the story of the quickest homework I had had before fastening my seatbelts.
It is an everyday routine to receive a question from the Sports Editor 'Is there anything big today?' as I step into the office. But this was not the case on that particular day. I was rather taken by surprise when my boss smilingly told me, "Bishu (they find it easier, of course affectionately, to call me by this name) there is a news for you. You want to listen it now or after filing the reports?"
However, he did not even have the patience to wait for my response and continued, "You may have to go to England as Lenin (my colleague) has little chance to cover the ICC Champions Trophy due to family commitments."
I just dropped from the blue although it was yet to be confirmed as Lenin (Gani) bhai still didn't completely rule himself out.
It never even came to my mind in a dream that I would go to England to cover cricket's one of the biggest events, but sometimes you have to be ready for what they say, 'surprises' still happen.
Lenin bhai was actually assigned to cover it long before because he would have been the right man go to the right place as no one in our the sports section knew the country better than him being a British, by born.
After his final 'no', the responsibility was shouldered upon me. I had just over a week in my hand to prepare for the dream trip.
The situation can only be matched with a popular Bengali proverb: "Stand up girl... get ready for marriage."
"I don't know how you do everything but you have to do it," was the straightforward order from my indifferent boss. I felt like drowning in a deep sea and not a single straw in sight to cling to because I didn't even have my passport renewed. Interestingly, the weather, it was raining incessantly at that time, was also testing my nerves.
But when you have a big brother like Pommel bhai, who had already warned me earlier to have my passport submitted for renewal and not disclose this to the office at all, I somehow got through. But the one man I must thank for bailing me out is Tipu bhai, the 'horfun moula' (who can do anything) of sport arena, to bring out the renewed passport just in time for submission for visa.
I must consider myself lucky to have people like them around me, otherwise things would have been different, I am sure. And they include my boss too, who promised me to lend the whole section's support to get me on the plane. But again he warned, "We are doing this because your are totally new, but mind it, in future…"
During the nerve-tangling homework I even forgot to think that I would be missing my two-month-old daughter, who has just opened another chapter in my short life, for the next four weeks. And I only became aware of the fact when an officer at the British High Commission reminded me: "It would be a fantastic visit for you but guy, you definitely are going to miss your baby. Is it your first child?"
However, in the world of professionalism, you have to put all those emotional factors behind and so did I.
And thank God I could manage to complete all the formalities, including getting a British visa, just in time to leave Dhaka on September 9 but don't think that I got an easy ride.
I had little time to think about cricket in those few days but once I got on board, my assignment was back in my mind -- think only about cricket. I have had the experience of covering big events like Independence Cup and Knockout World Cup at home but my credit of covering on foreign soil was zero.
And once again I was lucky enough to be accompanied by some experienced journalists who gave me valuable suggestions.
If anybody tells me to bracket my journey is a single word, I would say it was 'hurry', excepting the nearly 13-hour long boring journey on a Malaysian Airlines plane.
Since I landed at the Heathrow Airport in the night, I didn't even have the time to think about anything but the hectic schedule of the competition that I had to follow during a little over three weeks time.
One can understand what it was like if I give an example. I was on a bus to London from Birmingham when I suddenly received a call from my office in Dhaka and my boss asked me, "Where are your reports? Have you sent them? I don't care whether you are on a bus or whatever, write it (on Laptop) right now and send them, (also right now)."
I hardly had some time for sightseeing for obvious reasons, but in Dhaka many told me that I would have to visit some great places within the tight schedule otherwise it would be a stupidity.
Among them Pommel bhai repeatedly advised me to at least see the Madame Tussaud's Museum and I was also desperately trying to manage some time to get the experience although a few of my companions found no reason to 'waste' near about 20 pounds to see the waxworks.
It would be a crime if I don't mention one name who never said 'no' during my stay in England. The guy named Tutul, a CA student but enthusiastic about Bangladesh cricket, is the son of veteran sports journalist Ajoy Barua. He tried beyond his capacity just to help us.
Anyway, after the end of the tournament, I along with some fellow journalists reached the gallery but all of a sudden I got a call from Mustafa Mamun (former sports reporter of Prothom Alo) when we were all set to enter the gallery. He asked, "Bishwajit da where are you? You have to call Al-Amin bhai (my boss) immediately. He is desperately looking for you but can't reach you over your mobile."
And I had to abandon the programme there and then.
I have gained a lot of experience during the tour, which I think is altogether a different story. No doubt, meeting the galaxy of former and current cricketers, visiting picturesque stadiums, having interactions with different kind of people including the Bangladeshi expatriates, facing critical British media (most of the time laughing at our part-time captain Rajin Saleh), watching warlike match between India and Pakistan on foreign soil and Clive Lloyd's hoisting of his tie with childish gesture after West Indies' triumph in an absorbing final at The Oval deserved different places to tell.
Although one of my travel-fevered friends found no reason to take my visit as a charming one after listening the whole story, I believe that it opened a window on me to see the world in a wider perspective.
I remember a comment by an octogenarian autograph-hunter, who devoted his life to watch cricket matches all over the world, telling me, "Gentleman, visiting a new country means you have written a new book in your mind.”