Kanpur - the inconvenience is not regretted

When in Kanpur... do watch your back. Maneesh Agnihotri/The India Today Group/Getty Images

During the celebrations in one corner of the ground on the morning of India's 500th Test, which were shown only on TV and the rest of the crowd had no clue what was happening, India's current coach and former captain Anil Kumble was called up to the stage. He was felicitated. Perhaps given a shawl and a memento by the governor of the state. Being respectful, Kumble thought he shouldn't carry his mobile phone to the stage. So he left the phone, his shades and his cap behind where he was sitting. He got his memento but by the time he came back, his shades and cap were gone, in the presence of the governor, sports minister and principal sports secretary of the state, and the security arrangements the presence of such people brings with it.

Welcome to Kanpur, the city hosting India's 500th Test. There is a joke often told in the context of Kanpur. A visitor was once amazed at seeing a Kanpur pigeon flapping only one wing when it flew. So he paid the owner a hefty sum to buy it. When the new owner reached his home, the pigeon began using both wings. Perplexed and angry that he had been conned, he took the bird back to the seller in Kanpur. Now once again the pigeon began using one wing. The seller now explained, "This is Kanpur, here even pigeons cover their backsides when they leave their home."

Kanpur is a unique experience in watching Test cricket. There is of course the pedigree. The first turf pitch in India was laid in Kanpur. A local club even claims the first time Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly met was here during the nets for a domestic tournament. The second part is incidental just as the 500th Test coming to Kanpur is.

It is a good coincidence though, because Kanpur is the India they won't show you in tourism brochures or "Incredible India" ad campaigns. This is the India governments don't want you to see too much. This is the India half of the modern India debating net neutrality on Twitter doesn't know about.

To be in this India and to be able to watch a Test at the same time is a gift. There are structural inconveniences of a government stadium, but the different levels of asinine problems that a fan has to face in other venues in the name of security are non-existent here. You can't take a pen inside other grounds for you could use it as a missile to throw on the ground. This is the explanation many a cop has given me. In other grounds, you can't step out for a bite because your ticket allows you only a single entry. Green Park is a freer place.

If you spend a week here, it might be worth starting a Twitter handle or a blog called "Overheard in Kanpur".

This is the home of Bollywood director Shaad Ali. His films are understated and delightful. It is hard to imagine his work doesn't draw from his experiences of having grown up in Kanpur. Bunty Aur Babli, about a lovable, charming couple who are also crooks, is based on real-life characters from this general area. Especially the screenplay, the language that is spoken in his films, comes straight from Kanpur.

Another Bollywood act that borrows from Kanpur is the movie Tashan. The lead character Bachchan Pandey, as Uttar Pradesh a name as it gets, is a katiyabaaz, an electricity thief who steals with home-made wires from official power cables. This electricity theft in Kanpur costs the state millions of rupees every year, and results in long power cuts.

There is no bigger compliment to the cleverness of the language of Kanpur than the great poet Gulzar using the tagline of a sweets shop in a lyric for the original soundtrack of Bunty Aur Babli. The shop in question is Thuggoo Ke Laddoo (Thug's Laddoos). Laddoo is a sweet made differently all over India, but in this case it is made with semolina, milk solids, a lot of ghee (clarified butter), nuts and sugar. The tagline for this shop is "Aisa koi saga nahi jisko humne thaga nahi (There is no such close one that we haven't thugged)." The name, though, was just thought of as a clever way to attract eyeballs. The owner is a Gandhian. Gandhi used to tell Indians that sugar is white poison. So in a way, he says, I am thugging people by getting them addicted to my laddoos, which are made of white poison.

The Company Bagh (Garden) of Kanpur is quite possibly the inspiration behind the immortal line in the film Omkara, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, who is from UP too. A character taunted for not showing guts reminds the other about his moment of weakness. "Tab kinge gaya tha gooda, Company Gaadden (Where did the guts go then? On a walk in Company Garden)?"

Not just Gulzar or Shaad or Bhardwaj, you spend a week here and you will come back with an enriched language. "Overheard In" Twitter handles and blogs were made for this part of the world. "Saha chhotey mein Bournvita nahi piya hai kya be?" asks a policeman on duty at India nets. Wriddhiman Saha is small, and Bournvita is a popular brand of children's health drink.

Just outside the ground a man sells tea, paan and cigarettes in a cart that is caged on all sides. I ask him why. Monkeys, he says. Monkeys? "There are two kinds of monkeys," he says. "Ones that comes and destroy from behind. The others who walk on the street and steal."

Talking of monkeys, one attacked the dressing room two days before the match. The possibility of a repeat attack was a big crisis among police forces. The prospects of getting a langur, genus Semnopithecus, to keep monkeys at bay was discussed. Then arose the problem of how the langur will be fed. One of the officers said that as long as you sat and ate peacefully with the langur, it is cool but once you make a sudden movement, it runs away. Thankfully, no monkeys showed up on match days, but as Harbhajan Singh has proved and Sachin Tendulkar has testified, the topic of monkeys made a natural progression towards colourful swearwords.

If Nalanda in Bihar is the ancient seat of learning, Kanpur might as well be the ancient seat of swearing. It is almost like the rest of India has taken the swear words and bastardised them. Here they exist in their original and respectful form. When it is said respectfully and coldly, it loses the rhetoric that swearing has in the rest of India and gains an edge. More about it is obviously not publishable, but suffice to say the fourth umpire for this match, CK Nandan, will be well advised to not tell Kanpuriyas his name.

So please visit Kanpur at least once for Test cricket, but the moment your train pulls into the station, the sights of the banks of Ganga and dudhiyas (milkmen carrying three massive containers each) around you, cover your backside, sharpen your one-liners and keep your ears open for the gems. In other words, do what Saif Ali Khan's character in Tashan says he needs to do in a crisis: "Mujhe akkalmand ban'na padega, khatarnaak ban'na padega, Kanpuriya ban'na padega (I will have to become clever. I will have to become dangerous. I will have to become a Kanpuriya)."