We don't do it here what we do over there

Mohammed Al Amin

The first experience of anything has to be dramatic. Otherwise those defining moments could not have made lasting impression. Think of the first day at school, ducking it for the first time and watching a cinema, the first bite of snow, the first touch of your loved one and of course the first trip outside the country -- you will recall all those lovely memories in a flash.

It was a cold evening in 1995 and I was briefing my unofficial boss Chandrashekar Das about the events of the day at the Dhanmondi office of The Daily Star when Jamal (the peon of Tawfiq Aziz Khan) arrived.

"Sir called you upstairs," conveyed Jamal. My first reaction was that there might be some silly mistakes Tawfiq bhai (our late managing editor) was going to address to me.

But when I came out of his perfumed room I was bubbling with excitement and rushed to the sport section to make a small announcement.

"The office has decided to send me to cover the SAF Games in Madras."

Dhaka to Madras was quite a distance and in those days a journey by plane was unimaginable for a reporter. So, my travel plan was quite complex but the relief was that I would be travelling with a group. Interestingly, the first part of the long journey started with a small air-trip from Dhaka to Jessore on consensus that it would save some precious hours in our three-day multi-transport trip.

Although the Benapole Check Post has been considered as a perennial tourists' pain, the journalists' tag ensured a smooth border-crossing experience for us. And as we walked along the 'no mans land' and entered the Indian territory I could hardly feel any difference apart from a different uniform and a strikingly different smell in the air that I later learnt came from emission of burning coal from nearby domestic burners.

We jumped inside a black Ambassador for a comfortable ride to Calcutta and after overnight stay in the bustling city we headed for Hawra train station to embark on a grueling 32-hour journey to Madras by Koromondol Express.

The ride was a hell of an experience and by the time we reached Madras everyone in that group was just exhausted.

Bangladesh won a few gold medals in the Madras SAF Games but the performance of Bangladesh hockey team against Pakistan at Radhakrishanan Stadium outshone everything. Bangladesh might have lost that game following a controversial decision of the umpire, but the way they fought against the hockey superpower on that day is still considered the best show that Bangladesh unearthed on international circuit. The other off the field incident still lives fresh in my memory even after a decade is the passion for movies of the Indians. It was a 9pm show of 'Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge' and we thought the rush would not be as it was during the day. But we were amazed to see a human sea in front of the movie house, and believe it or not ladies outnumbered gents.

The Madras spectacle was over and it was time to head home and the return trip to Calcutta was even worse. The train was delayed by six hours, and the ceaseless shrills of those iron-wheel trolleys really tested our nerves.

When we reached Calcutta, the city was preparing to celebrate the 31st night. It was a night to behold for those who managed a seat into those overflowing restaurants on Park Street. We were not that lucky but still enjoyed the night walking along the famous street.

It took another three years for my next assignment outside the country, the trip to Nepal for the 1997 SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Championship. Interestingly, I was travelling with the same group led by our beloved late (Masud Ahmed) Rumi bhai and it was yet another long journey by road. But this particular trip was exceptionally amusing, which can be best described a tourist's dream. It was quite a complicated route -- Dhaka-Burimari-Siliguri-Changrabandha-Panitanki-Kathmandu -- and for any travel-enthusiast who wants to embark on this particular trip the advice from an expert is that 'take only a small travel kit comfortable on your back and ensure that you have got a double-entry visa from the Indian High Commission.

I'm not sure whether those old-fashioned bull-dog-nose Bedford buses were still carrying passengers from the Nepal check post at Panitanki (quite a funny name) to Kathmandu. But satisfaction is guaranteed with the first sight of dawn and the powerful engine taking a steep ride through the scenic landscape of Kathmandu valley.

Thamel is the most popular place where tourists stay and eat momo (a cake with puffed rice with vegetable or meat inside it and boiled in steam) which is a popular food in Nepal. You will also find some rickshaws, but those are very expensive rides compared to motorised vehicles.

I still can remember how correct that smart rickshaw-puller was while defending his claim for a higher fare.

"Don't forget, we need to sweat a lot to get this thing moving. But if you drive a car you just need to switch the engine on."

South African all-rounder Shaun Pollock is being interviewed by reporters ahead of the tsunami appeal match at Lord's in June last year

On the level playing field Bangladesh were fantastic till their showdown against India turned into a cruel defeat. It still evokes a lot of pain recalling that freakish goal -- that first hit the cross-bar and then rolled back to a grounded Bangladesh keeper before taking a slow but sure journey towards the net. And the boys of Otto Pfister, who dominated India for two-third of the game, ended up as losers.

The players with broken heart took a flight back home, but the reporters decided to take a trip to Pokhara, a picturesque valley 200km west off the capital, on their way back home.

The biggest attraction of the valley at the foot of Annapurna mountain range is the Phewa Tal -- a lake with an area of 5 square km and 800m above sea level). Despite the cloud covering the mountains for most of the time we were also extremely lucky to see the peaks of Dhaulagiri and Machapuchare (Fishtail) on the morning of our departure after a brief stay.

SAF Games and the SAFF Championship were the two regular events reporters used to cover over the years until cricket shot into the limelight, opening a new window of opportunity for Bangladeshi journalists to travel worldwide.

My Zimbabwe trip in 2001 was an exciting venture. Although we have started with a pre-conceived notion that we were heading towards a volatile land of the Dark Continent, the first sight of Harare -- the neatly arranged capital of Zimbabwe -- was amazingly refreshing apart from the long queue for fuel in every gasoline station.

One with the experience of a previous visit to London can easily be confused seeing the neatly arranged commercial hub of Harare because it was similar to the ones in the English capital.

The first overseas series of Bangladesh ended with a predictable clean sweep in favour of the home side and after all these years I have a hunch that we should not have been in a hurry to drop those old guards overnight and get obsessed with a new generation of cricketers. It did more harm than good to our cricket in the long run.

The 2003 World Cup in South Africa was a nightmare for everyone. A Canadian gentleman was travelling with us from Cape Town airport to the team hotel and he was unaware that his national cricket team was also playing in the competition. And after being informed that Canada would be playing their first game against Bangladesh, the man who has grown up knowing little about the game, with a forceful smile on his face said: 'That's great'.

We don't know whether he later turned up to see his team pull off an upset win against Bangladesh, who were miserable under a miserable Pakistani coach throughout the tournament.

Bangladesh were the first visitors of a magnificent England summer in 2005 that saw the home side winning the Ashes against Australia after a 2-0 sweep over Bangladesh.

The hype of playing at the famous Lord's ground was too much for a young Bangladesh team to absorb and they wilted under pressure just over two days. The second Test at Durham ended with a lot of promise for the one-day series that culminated in a famous victory over Australia in Sophia Garden.

Since my first assignment at Madras to the last one in England I have been to different cities, mingling with different types of people, creed and culture. It was a great learning curve. But the irony is that the good things that any Bangladeshi sees and learns whenever s/he is abroad buries those no sooner the return flight touches down at the Zia International Airport.

England is portrayed as a capitalist state. But if you are into it for a while you will find it an ideal welfare state if not very close to a socialist nation. This is the general observation of one of those half-a-million Bangladeshis now settled in England.

The Zimbabweans might have seen the light of civilisation long after Bangladesh. But how quickly they have learned to respect the law is amazing. It was 12 midnight and our driver Millilo was taking us to our hotel through an almost empty Harare boulevard when he suddenly stopped in front of a robot showing red lights. Imagine what would have happened had it been in Bangladesh.

Being a sport writer I have come across at least 50 odd cricket or football grounds in different parts of the world. Interestingly I have never seen any commercial shop in those grounds. But in Bangladesh shops are the basic ingredients for building a stadium.

There are so many areas you will find Bangladesh at odds with other nations of the world. And it evokes a lot of pain whenever you disclose your identity to a foreigner. It was in Galle in 2000 and we were having our dinner at a restaurant when a Dutch couple, curious to have a chat with us, showed a lot of enthusiasm after they learnt that we were from Bangladesh.

But we were completely taken aback at their knowledge of Bangladesh.

"Doesn't half of your land remain under the water for most of the year?"

Don't blame them because Bangladesh over the years have been portrayed to the world like this.

Thankfully, the success of cricket of late has given Bangladesh a positive identity. But our cricket ambassadors will continue to get embarrassed unless they can address a few more positives in other fields. To achieve that what we need is a strong desire like our cricket officials and the will to pursue that 'goal' like they did collectively until we earned the Test status in June 2000.

It has been three years since I have danced to the tune of a famous Zulu song during the World Cup in southern Africa.

The first few words of that song will never get lost from my memory: "The sun will not rise until we reach there".

© thedailystar.net, 2006. All Rights Reserved