Sunday, September 18, 2005

Born Into Brothels

Having had a hectic day and sporting a terrific headache and an overwhelming urge to make my way home for dinner, red wine and sympathy I found myself crammed on the DLR heading for Bank. I'd arranged to meet a friend who had been travelling for the summer and had reserved us tickets to see a film at the ICA. Couldn't remember the name of the film and given the mood I was in it was sure to be some arty, high-brow production which I would be incapable of understanding.

The Central Line platform was full to bursting and the helpful man on the tannoy was just informing us that 'due to the earlier suspension the service was returning to normal'. 15 minutes for the next tube. My shoulders sagged and my body groaned. Surprisingly, few people made for the exit. Did they really think they would be able to get on the train once it did arrive?

There was a glimmer of hope as I boarded a bus bound for Tottenham Court Road almost immediately. Somewhere between its destination and Holborn we became well and truly stuck in a bus jam. Not having moved for at least 5 minutes there seemed nothing for it but to get off and use the most reliable form of transport known to man Shanks's pony.

As you may well imagine by the time I had walked to Coffea in Brewer Street I was seething. Fortunately, the waitress in the cheap Japanese down the road clearly understood my plight and brought me a far taller bottle of beer than the one I had ordered. Accompanied by G's stories of Vietnam and Cambodia I soon started relaxing.

I checked the name of the film I was going to see. Born Into Brothels. Surely she wasn't taking me to see something verging on the pornographic? No. Born Into Brothels is an award-winning documentary based on children born in the red light district of Calcutta.

Zana Briski, an American photographer, lived amongst the women periodically in the hope they would let her document their lives. It was the children of the prostitutes who held her attention. Briski gave them simple cameras and over a period of three years taught them how to use them; to show the world through their own eyes.

I came out feeling like I'd been run over by a steamroller. The film was at times heart-breaking, distressing, touching and funny. We were unable to dissect it then and there. Time was needed to sit and contemplate before discussing.

Ten or so days on I'm still undecided. It's an amazingly powerful film and people should watch it. On the other hand, I wonder how it has affected the lives of the children. Briski was determined to help these children lead better lives; to ensure the girls didn't follow their mothers, grandmothers and aunts 'into the line'. She showed them the world outside but was it really attainable? She fought red tape and prejudice to get some of the kids places in schools. At the end of the film only two had stayed on. The others had been withdrawn by their families or had chosen to go home.

What Briski set out to do was commendable but did it smack of the Sally Army trying to rescue fallen women's children in the 19th Century? Is it better to have tried to improve their lives and fail than not to try at all? I don't know the answers. Go watch the film and make your own mind up.

And did those feet...

A young lad, with a big grin, asked me the other day if I was “a weekend cricketer”. Not a phrase I recognised but the meaning was clear. Did I actually know anything about cricket or had I jumped on the bandwagon?

I will readily admit that the fielding positions sometimes leave me stumped – silly mid-wicket, this slip, that slip – but I did score 6 out of 6 on the quiz Colin subjected me to. All about the umpire's movements. I can tell the difference between a six and a four, a wide and a leg-by.

For quite sometime, I wanted to adopt the recently retired Umpire Shepherd as my grandad. I was quite alarmed and saddened when I discovered he was only a couple of years older than my dad. He looks just like a grandad should.

So, how did I grow from a early-twenties someone totally baffled by cricket to an early-thirties someone who genuinely enjoys it? Henry Blofeld. I could listen to him for hours on Radio Four. Blowers builds up such a vivid picture in your mind. Twinkle-toes Tendulka; Freddie running up like a baby elephant to bowl. And it isn't just the cricket. We get to hear all about the geese, the sea-gulls, the buses passing by. Such a pleasant way to while away the time.

My interest has been sustained by the great sportsmanship that still exists in cricket. Competitiveness and aggression clearly play their part but there is an overwhelming sense of fair-play and respect. One of the enduring images from the series will be Freddie placing a hand on Brett Lee's shoulder in a touching gesture of consolation while the rest of the England team were bouncing round the field celebrating.

Most men now accept that women can watch football – at the ground, on the tv – and sustain a conversation on the topic. Cricket, I have discovered, is another matter. It was nearly an all male-affair at school which is surprising. I would have thought the atmosphere and values on display over the summer would appeal to women more than the testosterone-fuelled antics and often raw-chauvinism witnessed on football pitches. Perhaps the rules make the sport seem impenetrable. Let's hope the win will encourage people, especially women and children, to get involved in the sport. And more importantly let's hope cricket, for all its successes, doesn't go the way of the sport it magnificently overshadowed for the past couple of months.