“Would you like my business card?” – a very Indian experience

One of the best trips of my life was to to photograph the return to international sport of South Africa, after the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela. I accompanied the team to India – and the experience was unforgettable.

We arrived late at night in Calcutta. We had a long time in immigration, where they took a particular interest in all the equipment we were bringing in to the country (as well as the wire tranmsitters and colour processing kit – cricket requires very large telephoto lenses and supporting tripods). After that, the ride of a lifetime. There is nothing more exhilarating (scary!) than a ride in a Calcutta taxi late at night. The streets were chaos, and we breathed a sigh of relief as we entered the gates of the Oberoi Grand Hotel – and entered something from the “days of the Raj”.

The next morning, the South Africa team were heading for a photo-call at Mother Teresa’s Calcutta convent. The press bus pushed through the packed streets and we arrived a few minutes before the team. The place was thronged with people and I tried to push through the crowd so I could find out what was happening. As I went, a little hand tugged at me. I turned and looked down and a small lady said “can I give you my business card?”. It was Mother Teresa – and she was handing me a small prayer card. It was a wonderful gift.

Clive Rice was the captain of the South African team. Later, I gave him a print of the moment he met Mother Teresa – he mentions it in an article in The Sunday Times about his Best & Worst moments.

“What was the best moment of your career?
I had a lot of fantastic moments, including captaining South Africa when we got back into international cricket [after apartheid] with a tour to India in 1991. When we arrived, the streets from the airport to the hotel were lined with people. It was overwhelming and I thought: “Let’s take another route to the hotel to get out of this environment.” We had to stop every 400m and get out of the coach to do some more speaking to the public. It was an incredible welcome. There must have been about 6,000 people outside the hotel to catch a glimpse of the players climbing onto the team bus. On the trip we met Mother Teresa, and there is a classic photograph of me shaking hands with her. I had the picture mounted on the wall next to my bed. The night she died, the picture fell off the wall. When I picked it up, I thought: “Now, what’s gone on here?” There was no reason why it had come off but it was announced on the news the next day that she had died. You ask yourself: “What goes on in this world?” The work she did helping people was amazing.”

The next day was an experience too. South Africa’s first match back in international sport was against India at Eden Gardens in Calcutta. The crowd was over 100,000 – we were told a world record for cricket at that time. There was a mist on the ground that delayed play – and the atmosphere was amazing, with fire crackers going off every few seconds.

The picture I took of Clive Rice looking as if he was praying featured on back pages around the next day. It was an historic event for sport. I was pleased to be there to record it.

India is a fantastic country. I love the people – and the variety that springs from every street. I certainly experienced many things – including the very worse toilets that I have ever had to process films in (see my post “Toilet Tales – processing film in loos around the world”).

The Times of India was our breakfast read every morning – and there was always some bizarre story (e.g. whole family of 8 killed while trying out dad’s new scooter taxi!). When we were in Delhi, a journalist from the Daily Express who was traveling with the party asked whether I could cover a story in the local hospitals. During a festival, the local pharmacy traditionally tried to put together some low cost “Sura” (hooch/moonshine – made from pure alcohol). Something had gone wrong in Delhi – and nearly 200 had died and more were blinded. Seeing the hospitals and people’s suffering was greatly moving. We had a nice life moving around the country – but poverty was everywhere.

I came home with many memories (and a touch of amoebic dysentry!). I’d love to go back again sometime – it’s a wonderful country.

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