As everybody says who writes about it, nothing really prepares you for India, for the abject poverty. I remember arriving in Bombay and feeling extremely depressed. It was the first time I had met deprivation on such a massive scale, or encountered a situation quite so hopeless.

I went out there because my husband, Phil, was playing cricket for England; I don't think I went to one match, instead I used to hack off on my own.

When you're with the deified cricketers, you're cocooned in your hotel from all this poverty, bearers take your suitcases, which magically disappear from one hotel and appear at another. But as soon as you go out on the streets, you see children who have been deliberately maimed by their parents and made to limp so they can beg, or their eyes have been pulled out, or hands cut off.

All around is heat, grime, dust, the smell of poverty - in Calcutta, people were living in sewage pipes.

You can't walk out in India without somebody wanting something; you're constantly being grabbed, hands are pushed in front of you, there's din and noise all the time, an almost unbearable cacophony of sounds.

I don't think I ever felt safe there. How can you feel safe when you have so much, and everybody else has so terribly little?

You start questioning your own validity. I scribble, I write books, I don't do much to help other people. All my brothers are medics, one is an eye surgeon, researching sickle-cell anaemia. I thought: 'Now, he's doing something useful.' But I'm not Mother Teresa, that's the trouble. I am an affluent Westerner, and I thought: 'This will bother me now; then I will go back home and get on with my life.' But it stays with you all the time, it doesn't leave you. India never leaves you.

Having said this, I loved India, too. There's a gentleness, a depth; culturally, it is an amazing place.

The sort of Indians interested in cricket are the upper-caste people, and they are terribly hospitable. They want to show you their culture, their houses, take you to see the shrines and the temples, and there are so many beautiful things to see if you open your eyes.

Well, the cricketers hate India, and they hate Pakistan, they hate touring there. The favourite tour is Australia: First World, no aggro, a culture with the sort of things they like - you know, beer, sun, sand, sea, Australian girls readily available, and the total absence of any intellectual distractions.

It was my first time on a tour, and I saw lots of things I didn't like. Scratch the surface of these sportsmen and there's a racist element about them, the 'bloody wogs' sort of psychology.

Like: 'All Indians are cheats,' and 'All Pakistanis are cheats.'

Like: not even looking at the country. I know they are there to play cricket, but one would imagine, if you are in a different culture, you would want to understand a little bit more about it. How can you want to shut your eyes, and sit in your room and eat boiled eggs? Most of the cricketers just couldn't be bothered to look around . . . 'Not interested'.

Basically, they decided that this was an inferior culture - it was male, white, chauvinist piggery at its worst.

I started to dislike, and still do, groups of sports-playing men; the we-

are-superior attitude is everything I hate. The group team ethic is: women are either bonkable or not, Indians or Pakistanis are inferior - 'We are the lads and we are the best.'

The people I mix with at home are liberal, broad-minded. This was the first time in my life I met ignorant, racist men who, if they hadn't been England cricketers, would have been plumbers or something. I was particularly cross with one player, because he's racist and thick. He was the one saying all Pakistanis are cheats, and he perfectly represents all the attitudes I hate.

There's no way I can talk to people like that and, to be perfectly frank, they can't deal with women like me, who aren't barmaids or doormat wives. I've watched as stupid air hostesses or waitresses fall all over cricketers, just because they have England blazers . . . women can be very silly.

It seems to me outrageous that you've got certain England cricketers who imply that if you're white, you're in some way superior to someone like Imran Khan, who is an aristocrat and widely read, and all the rest of it. Well, you're not. Whiteness does not confer superiority, I'm sorry.

Frances Edmonds has written about cricket in 'Another Bloody Tour' and 'Cricket XXXX Cricket'. 'Star of Heaven', a novel, is published next month by Macmillan.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments