We set off for the Taj Mahal just after dawn. Our taxi cruised down chilly streets on which the dogs and pigs were just stirring. As we pulled up at the entrance, the elderly driver noticed I had a pen and paper, and asked if I intended to write something about what I was going to see. Kathryn said I was a poet, and always carried a pen and paper "just in case". His pink, watery eyes scrutinised me behind heavy spectacles.
"Are you are a poet ?" he asked. "Or do you write poetry?
"I write other things too."
But he would not let me off the hook. "That may well be," he said, "but are you a poet ? Just tell me that sir."
"I believe so."
"Very good," he replied. "There is no charge. I do not charge poets in my taxi."
"Why not ?" I asked, surprised.
"A country's poets are its most precious possession," he said. "And besides, they have no money."
"In my country, poets are not so highly regarded."
"And what is your good country sir ?"
"They are so good at cricket," he said, adjusting his spectacles, "perhaps their minds are not easily attuned to poetry."
"What is your name sir?" asked Kathryn.
"God," he said.
"I am God. You are God. He is God. We are all God. We all have God within us. So I am God."
"Then thank you God," I said.
He smiled and nodded farewell, and drove off.
We entered the empty grounds, walking through the formal gardens and up the long watercourse, with the lovely white bulb of the Taj still swathed before us in early morning mist. We ascended the steps to the marble platform and looked up as the first flecks of sun played on the fragile dome, then crossed to the far side of the platform to view the Yamuna River. Everything was still and silent. Clouds hung in soft white billows over the mirror-topped river.
Then, from just below where we stood, I heard something odd - a dull thwacking sound, familiar, repeated at irregular intervals. I craned my neck, and as I looked the clouds below seemed to part on cue, and I believed I saw cricket players
in pressed creams, playing on a stretch of lush green turf.
Kathryn peered down at the small field just above the river and nodded confirmation to me. "They've seen us," she said. "They're waving."
We went down and joined them, a dozen friends who played early morning and late afternoon, whenever they could, cricket fanatics they said. They invited us to join in the game. Kathryn declined with thanks and went back up to the Taj, saying she would watch from there.
And so we played, before a single spectator in surely the most beautiful cricket pavilion in the world. I scored ten runs, including a drive for four into a distant bush of red roses. My luck ran out when I was bowled middle stump by a young spinner called Jai, who gallantly apologised and offered to give me another life. But I took my place in the field, then later sent down a few offspinners of my own, netting a sharp caught and bowled. As the morning sun strengthened and the last of the mist blew away, we drew stumps. They had to get to their jobs and schools.
"You should be in the Australian team," said Jai, gracious to the last. "What do you do back in Australia ?"
"I try to make a living as a writer," I said.
"Really? And what do you write?"
"Lots of different things."
"I am a student," he said. "But really I am a poet. Are you really a poet too?"
"It's funny you should ask that," I said.
I told him about my meeting with God. He laughed. "He is my uncle. He is a poet too. I am a poet. You are a poet. We are all poets." He gestured up towards the dome and minarets of the Taj. "And you have come to the right place, to write your poetry. Mind you," he laughed again, "with a bowling action like yours, perhaps you missed your calling."
I shook my head, and he walked away with a smile of farewell.
I rejoined Kathryn up among the swelling crowds. "So what did you think of me as a cricketer?" I asked.
"God was right," she replied, flicking away a fly. "Stick with the verse."
This story is from my first travel writing collection, "The King Neptune Day & Night Club", Angus & Robertson 1992