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Belated Diary I: Teething problems (5/30/2008)
After a month of hectic hockey journalism, I sit in peace this week. What a month I had recently – which is professionally satisfying, if not profitable too. I wish to savour those events in the spell and my tryst thereof with the s2h readers who certainly take personal interest in what I do or what I don’t.

It all started when I decided to go Kazan in Russia for the second of three Olympic Qualifiers for Women. This was a belated decision taken after knowing well that no journalist from India will be there in Kazan. In such situation I should have sided with my media brethrens to shun the event, which would have been a wise economic decision, but I decided to plough a lonely furrow.

The media world, as commercial as any other business, went by realities. They saw no hopes of India qualifying for the Olympics, though in their writings these did not reflect for the sake of not demoralizing the Indian women team. Further, the Chile Effect was still fresh in their minds. Practically, every media house was locked themselves in with the impending Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket and had no time to even think of anything else. This despite the fact that the IPL owners were trying to impose conditions on the press and want their work (read images) BCCI’s revenue avenues.

In a belated decisions, for which I am familiar in my family and media circle (you also won’t have doubt on this count as I write the Kazan diary not when I was there but about a month later), things have to be rushed so also in my case. All correspondences with the FIH and the Russian Federation to get the Accreditation met with quick positive response that what I expected and getting Russia visa was even quicker.

The Russian Embassy in Delhi has outsourced this process, and when I submitted my visa application filling in the form they gave me in the ourtsource office, I was surprised on two counts. One, the visa fee was waived. Secondly, after 4 or 5 hours on the same day of visa submission I was asked to collect my passport with visa! Money and time saved.

Now the important task. I have not booked ticket. Here I faced the biggest hurdle. As my travel agent testified, two tickets had to be booked, one for Moscow and other for Kazan, a city 800 km east of Moscow. The fact is there is no round ticket feasible, and one has to change from International airport to domestic airport and the travel between these two airports cost is Euro 50! Another shock is the cost of ticket to go Moscow and then to Kazan are equally same. That is almost twice one has to spend unlike in other parts of the world where a round ticket can take you to more than one country. With a single round ticket I covered both men and women’s world cup in 2006 and it seemed cheaper than Moscow-Kazan puzzle.

I took a bold deicision – to go to Moscow by air and to Kazan by road or rail. Internet searches encouraged me, but there is no way I could book the ticket sitting in Delhi. Still I strictly told my agent to book only Delhi-Moscow-Delhi ticket.

Thanks to a fan, based in Moscow, whom I came to couple of days before my departure, I could book a train ticket to Kazan at a cost fraction of air ticket.

Cab drivers at Moscow airport and at railways stations can make our disorderly Chennai and Delhi counterparts proud. You can easily bargain one third of the rates they quote! There was snow fall during an hour journey from the airport, later it rained a bit also.

After 9 hours wait, I against boarded the train. In those waiting hours, my friend took me to an Indian restaurant with another friend, who can speak my mother tongue. Midway through the meal, a Russian girl, attired in traditional Indian dress, descended to dance against a bangra number.

The 9-hour train journey was smooth, and I had no idea of terrain I passed through because of sound sleep, and an hour time I could see the outside world through the windows most of them were thick jungles and as one about to enter Kazan, a mighty river interjects, a grandiose view it was. Kazan is on the banks of River Kazan.

Language is a big problem all through till I entered Bulwark hotel, a walking distance from Horsten Hotel where all the teams were housed, where the beautiful receptionists are a grace with English tongue. I got a good ride from Station to my hotel as my Moscow friend managed to send a handsome Alexendra, an official with the Russian Hockey Federation, to pick me up there in the station. He spoke English and I could extract as much information I needed to get into the journalistic mode.

I gulped a dozen idlis in that hotel in my room as soon as entered because I know I won’t get any vegetarian food at my time and otherwise the packed home food would be rotten, before setting ahead for getting my accreditation.

Getting Accreditation was as simple as getting the visa. The people in charge of making media accreditation made it clear there are no specific media accreditation for media as they did not expect so many of them in good numbers, as such I will be accommodated under Indian Team Official. I felt nice because the Gill was still in the chair when this happened, and am an Indian Hockey Confederation official!!

My joy was short-lived. As I was coming through the corridor, as my luck would have it, I encountered Amrit Bose en route, manager of the Indian team. After a good exchange of gestures, she asked whether I got the accreditation done. As I flashed the card with enormous euphoria, she retorted, “You are not a team official, they don’t know English, they do mistakes like this, get it changed, and you have to go this way to get it changed”. She was in hurry to show the way back to the place from where I was straight away coming! I thought beta mar gaya, but made a quick dodge from her, and gave an impression next 2, 3 days as if everything is going her way without ever doing anything she wanted.

As I returned I met the entire coaching staff – Videographer Rajinder Singh, MK Kaushik, AB Subbaiah and Vasu Thapiliyal – relaxing in the front office. They were waiting to get the official bus to go to the stadium for practice. They were all quick to narrate, hilariously of course, all the juicy stories of mam sahib. We had a whale of time.

I wanted to test my new lap top on its Wi-Fi friendliness and it worked. I was also worked up with mam shahib’s antics. Thus the first story of Kazan was born then and there – ‘Routine of an aunty, last 20 years’.

In the next ten days or so I stayed there at least one of the staff members would remind me of the story, almost curious to know whether aunty had read the story. Almost unconsciously they will add one more incident of her. This story brought some of the staff members, whom I am meeting first time, close to me, making my task easier and pleasurable.

I was damn sure it would take another yug (era) for Federation Secretaries go online. They are world of their own, online, internet are beyond their interest.

To be continued

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