Sunday, September 26, 2010

Challenge Delhi

Challenge Anneka, that’s what Delhi needs right now. A lycra-clad superwoman rushing around the city in a buggy with just a mobile phone and a television network for help. She’d have the job done as soon as you could say “product placement”.

“Gosh – we need 1,500 plumbers, 1,000 electricians and 7,000 mattresses to replace the ones the wild dogs walked over, and our athletes are arriving by teatime” she’d gush to her trusty soundman, and in a trice an army of volunteers would appear. Seeking no greater recompense than a smile from their heroine and a plug for their employers’ companies, the workers would set to and, just before the opening ceremony, the last paintbrush would be put down, the lights switched on and everyone would cheer.

I have a terrible feeling it isn’t going to end that way. As I write this, the Indian army has been summoned and it looks as though some poor athletes are just going to have to grin and slum it.

When I wrote the first Radio Times blurb for Challenge Anneka (“Making the impossible possible through the power of television”), I already knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Our first challenge was a disaster, largely because I naively thought you could restore the White Horse of Weymouth in an afternoon. You could if you had the Indian army and a thousand tons of Portland stone waiting in a layby. We only managed to muster a few boy scouts and 7 volunteers from the local Rotary Club, and just about completed the horse’s head by the end of the show.

We took no chances with the rest of the series. Three highly efficient television producers called Julia, Janine and Beverley planned it all like a military campaign. Could we build a footbridge over a Cornish river in just a weekend? Of course not. It took three months to persuade British Steel to give us the materials, and a contractor to turn it into struts, and a transport firm to loan us a lorry to carry it. The whole thing was planned down to the last rivet and Anneka’s first call merely triggered a tightly controlled chain reaction. 20 years later our bridge still hasn’t fallen down, unlike the one in Delhi.

The person I feel most sorry for is Lalit Bhanot, hapless secretary general of the Commonwealth Games organising committee. Not only has he brought the wrath of a proud nation on his shoulders by his committee’s inability to organise a poppadom in a curry house, he compounded it by saying Western standards of hygiene are different to India’s.

I spent a whole year living in India and found it perfectly comfortable, even in 1980. That’s possibly because I slept in a campervan, which my girlfriend and I had driven over from England. Occasionally craving a shower, we would drive into a remote village and imperiously demand of a crowd of excited children, “Where’s the Inspection Bungalow?” We’d then be led to the only stone building in town, built for the travelling magistrate in the days of the Raj. An ancient retainer would emerge from behind its dusty doors and, assuming that the British had finally returned, make up the four-poster bed, cook us a meal and boil water for the rusty showers – all for around 50 pence.

In Delhi itself we stayed at the very grand Imperial Hotel, but only in the car park, where the manager allowed us to camp and use the showers. It was very comfortable and I recommend it to any athlete stuck for a roof over his head. Although if the building work isn’t finished in time, I doubt even Anneka would be able to rustle up a spare camper van to help out with Delhi’s accommodation crisis over the next few days.


Unknown said...

Oh no now you've destroyed my belief that Anneka could do anything! I never suspected that things were planned down to the last rivet!
I was watching the Comonwealth shambles unfold last week and couldnt help but wonder why someone hasnt been overseeing all this and who would have known things were going down the pan so to speak much earlier when there was time to put things right.

I only ever stopped over in Bombay for refuelling years back, having crossed my legs for some time knowing that a ladies lav, would be available in the airport, only to find that it was a hole in the ground and toilet paper was supplied by the sheet by a female 'dispenser' as you walked in.
I crossed my legs again until I was back on the plane!

Tom Gutteridge said...

I wouldn't have thought that the (formerly hippy) enclave of Paharganj was the sort of image the Indian government would have wanted to portray to the international community! Though in 1980 its Tourist Camp was where we parked our camper van.

Every morning I donned my terrible ill-fitting cream suit, bought in Connaught Place, and a white stretch Mercedes would come and pick me up to whisk me to the Presidential Palace. I was filming the elections for Panorama and spent a month filming Indira Ghandi and her son Sanjay. In those days the only prestige hotel was the Intercontinental and there was no way I was interrupting my trip round the world for a boxy room in a tower block.