Days with the Big B

August 26th, 20092:16 pm @


England cricket supporter

For the past couple of months we’ve been enjoying the services of a fantastic driver who has been an invaluable asset, and not just for his intimate knowledge of Delhi’s short cuts or his willingness to wait for us while we’re at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. He’s been brilliant dealing with household headaches such as getting hold of a gas bottle (a topic for later).

He normally works for another expat, but she’s been away for an extended period and what started as a two-week treat for us has turned into a medium-term relationship.

Balbir and I spend a good hour or so in the car each day, which gives the two of us time to chat about the world and his hopes for his daughters and son. It also gives him the chance to regale me with dozens of anecdotes that keep me in stitches on the journey. While the stories are always fun, they can cause problems at times.

Running a little behind schedule one morning I was definitely on course to be late for work, a situation that wasn’t being helped by one of Balbir’s long anecdotes. When he tells a story he tends to slow down his driving, which is probably a good thing as he often uses both hands to illustrate his point – the best example being how some chefs often don’t concentrate while chopping food (how we got on that topic is a long story). He demonstrated this by chopping with both hands on the steering wheel, an action that caused him to beep his horn repeatedly at the car in front. I was too busy looking for the other driver’s reaction to realise the irony of not paying attention.

On this occasion, however, I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt him and ask him to step on it to get to work on time, but I could only half concentrate on his story as I looked at the time and realised how late I was going to be. Not following can be tricky tho as Balbir will often throw in a quick question or two to test me.

Eventually he noticed the time. “Oh,” he said, “we’re late.”

“Just a bit, it doesn’t matter,” I lied.

Balbir pursed his lips, adjusted himself in his seat and leaned on the accelerator. We were soon flying through Delhi’s traffic, overtaking, undertaking and generally finding any gap in the road to squeeze through. I was at work earlier than usual.

But it’s not always plain sailing.

For some unfathomable reason Balbir was supporting England throughout the recent Ashes campaign. To say I found this distressing, and a little puzzling, is to put a rather mild spin on things. With the Australians imploding on the field I would wait for Balbir to turn up, knowing what was coming. Often he would leave it a while, either forgetting that the cricket was on or waiting until he thought I’d been held in suspense long enough.

“England winning the cricket!” is how it usually began. Although, like a good bowler, he would sometimes alter his delivery and ask me if I knew what was happening in the cricket. As if he didn’t know.

From there on it was a case of wicket-by-wicket replays of the day’s events, each one causing me more distress as his delight become ever more obvious. It was bad enough having to suffer the slings and arrows of my English friends on Facebook and Twitter as Australia’s batsmen gave away their wickets or the bowlers conceded runs by the dozen. It was doubly worse having to be on the receiving end on my commute – and paying for the privilege.

At first I put it down to Balbir perhaps thinking I was English and he just wanted to be on my side, but then I recalled numerous conversations about Australia and where my family live and other such minutiae. Surely he hadn’t forgotten. After the fifth and deciding Test I finally asked him why he supported England.

It turned out a previous employer, an English guy, had thrown a party and invited Balbir along. So impressed was Balbir with the food, drink and hospitality that he decided he’d pray for England whenever they played.

“Maybe if you give me a party, I’ll pray for Australia,” he smiled.

If only I’d known that for the sake of a few beers and a BBQ Australia may still hold the Ashes.

Sorry guys.

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