‘Please don’t be angry, Samiran-da.
Today is the final of our football tournament. Tushar Mitra had agreed to be
our chief guest eight days ago. He said that we should bring the car to his
house at three. We have been announcing this on the mike since morning. We have
even pasted about twenty posters. At ten, Tushar called us saying that he won’t
be able to come; he would have to go to his in-law’s house at Burdwan. The
final of his brother-in-law’s club’s football tournament is being hosted today;
he has to be the chief guest there, so he cannot make it here.’
Tushar was not only the one of the
best stoppers of Juger Jatri, at one time he had been one of
the best defenders in India. He was very popular. He did not change clubs for
11 years. Samiran had been involved in many an on field battle with him in
Kolkata and outside. The results were more or less evenly matched. But Samiran
had noticed that for the past couple of years the thirty-five year old Tushar
was facing problems in turning, speedy forwards were leaving him for dead, nor
could he raise his body during spot jumps as before. He had heard from many
junior boys that he now held players down by their jerseys or punched them in
their stomachs in the sly: the referees were afraid of awarding fouls against him.
Everyone knew that Tushar was a member of Subodh Dhara’s group. The Dhara group
was a rival faction of the Secretary Patitpaban or Patu Ghosh’s group.
‘What can I do if Tushar-da cannot
come? Shall I bring him from Burdwan?’ Samiran could not hide his irritation.
‘Samiran-da, don’t be angry, please
save us today,’ the boy knelt down again.
‘We shall remain your slaves,’ the
words were followed by a dive. But Samiran had evaded him this time by
sidestepping him in time.
The third boy did not dare to clasp
him this time; rather he stood in front of him like a disciple standing before
a deity with folded hands.
The door opened and Basab stepped
out, mumbling as he tied his pajama strings, ‘Ah, Naku, what brings you at this
hour? Please come in.’
Basab was about to enter the door,
but ‘kneel down’ jumped up and began to follow him.
‘We shall die, Basu-da. You please
tell Samiran-da. Only for five minutes. An introduction with the two teams and
the awarding of the prizes.’
‘A pretty kettle of soup I have
landed myself in! I have spent two nights in the train. I have not gone home,
not eaten a bit, I am feeling dog-tired, I want to sleep…’Samiran looked at
Basab despairingly as he informed him of his physical condition.
‘Dada, only five minutes.’
‘Introduction before the match,
prize-distribution after the match—only in five minutes? Are you playing
a joke on me?’ Samiran asked, defiantly.
‘You have not eaten till now!’
Basab began to busy himself. ‘Listen, you leave him now. Let him take a bath
and grab a bite, then you can talk with him.’
‘Basu-da, you please tell him…’
‘OK, OK, I will talk to him. He
will go. Now you can leave,’ Basab assured them.
Samiran could not think of doing
anything except looking at his childhood friend with clenched teeth.
‘Hey, let’s go, now that Basu-da
has taken responsibility, we need not worry. You take rest, Samiran-da. You can
have a nap. We will come to pick you at the right time. Rana, you stay here.’
‘Kneel down’s attitude had suddenly turned harsh and menacing. Samiran could
very well make out the meaning of this ‘stay here’. Remain on guard; see that
he does not give us the slip.
‘It doesn’t matter that we could
not get a player from Jatri; we have
got such a famous player from Sarathi.
Samiran-da, we have supporters of both clubs in our locality.’ Relief and
success was writ large on the countenance of the boy who had clasped him.
‘Pintu, go out with the mike.’
After the boys had left, Samiran said, ‘Basu,
what is this?’
‘Nothing! Boys of the locality….
Can’t live in Rome and strive with the Pope…Take a bath first, I will ask
mother to serve you lunch.’
At the appointed time, the boys
came to pick up Samiran. The ground was within five minutes walking distance,
but they insisted that Samiran travel by a rickshaw.
‘Why would such a great player
walk? It simply cannot happen. It would
be a disgrace to us,’ said ‘kneel down’ in a new avatar with folded hands as he
sat down beside Samiran.
‘I am the chief guest, who is the
‘Nilmoni Gargari, do you know him?
He was a very famous player.’
‘I am not acquainted with him, but
I have heard his name. I was not born when he used to play.’
Meanwhile the loudspeakers were
blaring, ‘On the occasion of the seven-a-side tournament organized by Netaji
Sporting Club, the Shahid Bipul Kundu Challenge Cup and the Teenkari Challenge
Shield’s final is about to begin. Today’s chairman is the famous player of the
yesteryear and coach Nilu Gargari…Nilmoni Gargari, and the chief guest…,’ with
a pause, ‘Samiran Gupta, who does not need any introduction.’
‘Did you hear that?’
The announcement continued, ‘We
regret to inform you that the appointed chief guest for this occasion Tushar
Mitra had to leave for Burdwan in the morning as his mother-in-law has passed
Samiran shot a questioning glance
at ‘kneel down’.
‘It is impossible to manage the
public if we do not say such things. Don’t mind Dada, the public are absolutely
unaware of the character of footballers. We run the small clubs; it is these
tournaments which gives rise to footballers. But big clubs, reputed players
turn a blind eye towards us. We run such tournaments by earning subscriptions
from local people, shopkeepers. We incur debts too. We pay off our debts
slowly. Please forgive us our faults, Samiran-da.’
Samiran’s head hung down in shame
as he listened to these words. He knew very well who had kept Bengal football
alive. Innumerable small clubs like these were scattered all over Bengal. He himself
had earned his spurs by playing in a small club in his locality. If that club
did not exist, if Baren Mukhoti did not teach him the basics of the game, could
he have been able to achieve so much fame and earn so much money?
The rickshaw reached the field. The
carpeted stage was covered with a white cloth. There was a cup, a shield and
two small cups placed on a table. A brass flower vase was decorated with a
bunch of rajanigandhas. A table
containing the prizes— an inexpensive kit bag and a towel—was placed on the ground.
‘Samiran Gupta has arrived. Play is
about to begin. The two teams are requested to stand in a row near the
centre-line for introduction to our chief guest, Samiran Gupta. The referee and
the linesman are requested to stand with them.’
The chairman and the chief guest
were garlanded. It seemed to Samiran that he was in the electrical field.
Houses on all sides, uneven grassless ground, kids standing all around the
field, middle-aged, even old people were seen huddling near the side-line. People were everywhere—on the terrace, on the
verandas, even on the tree-tops. Most of them had never seen a match at the Kolkata
Maidan, though one could go to Maidan by bus. So many people would remain
content just by witnessing such a football match in such a small ground. They had
heard about him, seen his photo in the papers, might have even seen him playing
on television, but were seeing him in front of them for the first time. Who
knew what they were thinking about him?
As Samiran entered the field to get
introduced to the players, he turned around and looked at the spectators. There
was a round of applause.
Was that intended for him? He was not playing,
then why this outburst of emotion? Not only supporters of Sarathi, but those of Jatri
were present here also. Even they had clapped for him.
I had also stood in the same
manner. As he shook hands with the players, Samiran could feel that he also was
one of them. Which one? He seemed to become one with all of them. The players preceded
one step and introduce themselves—Hossainur Alam, Arup Mukherjee,
Ramkumar Sau, Prasanta Barman…..Samiran Gupta, Samiran Gupta, Samiran Gupta….
After the introduction was over, a
group photo was taken. As Samiran curtsied towards the spectators while
returning, there was a further round of applause.
Nilmoni Gargari had stayed back at
the stage. When he was asked to go introduce himself to the two teams, he had
refused. ‘Who am I? Do they even know me? Have they heard my name? When I played,
their fathers used to visit the Maidan. Players like Samiran are now the heroes
of these kids. They would hardly feel
gratified by shaking hands with me. You had better go, Samiran.’
Samiran realized that just as
Nilmoni Gargari possessed a body like dry timber, so were his words: this was simply because
of one reason—disappointment. He had seen some footballers of the past
with the same mentality. They simply could not tolerate the present generation
of footballers, particularly the fact that they received so much publicity and
so much money. They had played for the sake of playing, they had to face a lot
of hardships, they had to make many sacrifices in life, but all that they
received was verbal praise. Did anyone
remember them now?
A number of children gathered
around the stage to collect Samiran’s autograph. He signed them one by one. They
did not even glance at Nilmoni Gargari sitting beside him. He wished to say,
you take his autograph too. Somehow he could not speak it.
Samiran and Gargari watched the
entire match sitting side by side, but did not exchange a single word. When the
match ended, the crowd surged towards the stage. Of course, they wanted to see
the prize-distribution ceremony, but they were also interested in watching Samiran
from close quarters and take a close look at his conduct and his way of
Tarun Milan Sangha of Barasat defeated
Paikpara Friends Union by two goals. The players of the two teams, tired and perspiring,
sat down in front of the stage. The chairman would first deliver his speech and
then the chief guest would hand over the prizes and say a few words. Samiran
had already informed ‘kneel down’ that he did not have the talent to deliver a speech
and hence would refrain from doing so.
‘I would request all of you to
stand back. The prize-distribution ceremony will start now. Before that, the
chairman of this occasion, Sri Nilmoni Gargari, will deliver his speech.’
Gargari came before the mike. He wiped
the glasses of his spectacles. Clearing his throat, bending his head and
waiting for a few seconds, he began, ‘Respected ladies and gentlemen, Samiran Gupta
who is like my son, the players of the two teams, when I was invited as the
chairman of the final of this football tournament, I had asked, why me? I am a fossil
of the old time. I am unacquainted with today’s football, its environment, its
present condition. My thinking belongs to a different age; I am totally
disconnected from today’s Maidan football. If I say something at the ceremony, it might
sound unfamiliar to you. People would laugh at me. They assured me that people
would listen to my words; no one would laugh at me.
‘No, I am not present here to make
you laugh by cracking jokes. The stage at which our football has reached would
evoke tears rather than laughter. The reason is that our football is dead. But
instead of burning it or burying it, we are making a mummy of it for our own
interests. But as we do not know the exact rules we are not being able to make
the mummy, hence it stinks.
What is this ‘stench’? You know
that two years ago the spectators and the supporters, having come to know that
a match was being fixed, tried to set the tent on fire, abused the players and
maltreated the officials. This is stench. I read last year in the papers that
an established player, before taking advance from the club before the
transfers, had said that the tent of the club was like a temple to him. When I
read it, it felt so good. In this age of mistrust, corruption and degradation,
in this age of manage and match-fixing, at least one player considers football
as worship to God. Money was not important to him. But I saw three days later
that the same footballer had gone to the flat of an official of another big
club for bargaining about money. This is
Who killed our football? Lively was
the Maidan of our times, now it is a graveyard. Dogs and foxes hover there,
they are known as officials. The shortcut to success now is to become the
official of a big club. It is good if you have the power of the purse, it
doesn’t matter even if you don’t. You can get publicity in lakhs without
investing a single paisa. If you manage to become an official, whatever you say
will appear in bold prints in the newspapers and you will get recognition in no
time. You can extend your connection by piggybacking on the club: I read in the
papers that some officials are using this to get bank loans and run shady deals.
These publicity-craving officials, who would have gone unrecognized had they
not stepped inside the Maidan, these megalomaniacs, who do not love football,
who do not care for honesty, sincerity, dedication, think that because they
have the moolah they can buy the entire Maidan, they think footballers are like
cats and dogs, they lure them to the tent by offering them bagfuls of money.
This craze for money has spelt the doom for our football.’
Nilu Gargari paused suddenly. The
speakers were almost drowned by the incessant flow of words. As if to bring
them to the shore, Gargari stopped his speech and turned his face towards
Samiran. The crowd followed him. Samiran felt embarrassed.
‘Samiran is almost my son’s age. I
know that if I say something about the current generation of footballers, he
would feel insulted, so I beg pardon beforehand. But today’s footballers are
themselves responsible for degrading themselves to the level of dogs and cats.
They say that the club gives importance to them, pay respect to them, so they
are staying there or since the club no longer pays respect to them, they are
leaving the club but from what they read in the papers lakhs and lakhs of
footballs aficionados would believe that they do not have a milligram of
self-respect in them. The time for transfers has come; the process of signing
would start in four-five days. But it would be interesting to note the number
of somersaults they would do before signing.’
Samiran could feel his ears
tingling. His head hung down a bit. It was true that he did not find anything
unjust in Nilu Gargari’s words. But why bring up this topic before him? He
himself had not done anything disrespectful. Only when he had begun his career
five years ago, when he was naïve and inexperienced, he had been shown a red
card by the referee. Next year he had moved on to a big club from a small club,
something which every young footballer aspires to. The next year he had gone to another club
because he was offered a greater amount of money. What was unjust in that? It was only a recognition of his improvement.
But after that he had never
switched clubs, never haggled over money, never made absurd statements to the
media to tactfully increase his demand, never indulged in groupism. Many
footballers from Bengal had been rejected from the India camp because they
failed to measure up to Novacheck’s strict standard. But he had remained. Not
only so, he was the future captain of India. It was impossible for him to do
‘These are the so-called respectable
persons’, Nilmoni Gargari continued, in a sarcastic voice, giving example after
example, about which footballer had spit at the referee, who had boxed the
referee’s ears, who had kicked and slapped the referee. Which footballer had
declared that he was retiring and then retracted his statement the year after,
citing the reason that the club’s fans were not letting him hang up his boots.
Which footballer had said before a particular match that he would not touch the
ball if he did not receive the remaining money. Gargari went on with his tirade
and Samiran noticed that the hearers, of different ages, were simply lapping up
his words, their faces lit with the relish one would get by eating one rasgulla after another.
After the speech had ended and a
tremendous ovation had followed, Gargari sat down on the chair. He bent a bit
towards Samiran and whispered, ‘Maybe you are not like the others, but you too
have to share the sins of others.’
Nilmoni Gargari noticed that in
response, Samiran could only offer him a wry smile.
‘A time would come when people
would abuse others not as donkeys and cows, but as footballers. I have played
first-division football; it pains me when I think of such things. Maybe you
will also feel so.’ Gargari lightly touched Samiran’s arm, as if extending
sympathy in advance.
Samiran handed over the cup, shield
and the other prizes to the players. He did smile and shake the hands of the
players, but his mind registered nothing. He could neither see nor hear
anything. Somewhere inside his mind a short circuit had taken place and
destroyed the dynamo called the senses.
‘Samiran-da, please say something,
at least a few words. The young children hope to hear a few words from your
Samiran looked at the crowd
resignedly. Would they believe what he told them? After listening to Nilu
Gargari’s words, he could not find anything to say to them.
Samiran came before the microphone.
Without any introduction, he began, ‘Gargari-da is like my father, I humbly
accept his opinion. The gap between our times is almost forty years; a lot of
changes have taken place in this time. Whether it has been for good or bad only
the future can decide. If it has been all for bad, why did our seniors let it
happen? Instead of staying passive, they could have prevented it.
‘Corrupt people are running the
clubs, but how do they get the chance to become club officials? Who has created
our football set-up? Certainly not the present generation of footballers. We
take the money as professionals, but we cheat taking advantage of this set-up. It
is impossible for footballers to destroy the game single-handedly, the germ of
death has been injected into our football a long time ago, and it has been done
by our predecessors. Yes, football has been made into a mommy, but the task has
been done by senior people.’ Samiran noticed that the crowd would glance at
Nilmoni Gargari time and gain. There was no glitter of fun in those glances.
‘Would someone who has no desire
for money, no necessity for money here kindly step forward?’
Samiran paused. A buzz rose from
the crowd only to be followed by silence. He slowly turned his head and looked
at both sides. A pregnant silence followed.
‘The present day footballers are no
different than the sons of your families. They too need money. I end by speech here
by paying me respects to you.’
Samiran did not return to his
chair, but made his way to the stairs of the stage. He could not say anything
to the young kids. He did feel a bit perturbed but was also relaxed as he
noticed Nilu Gargari’s stony face.
‘You come to my rehearsal the day
after tomorrow,’ an ecstatic Basab came forward. ‘I was listening to your
speech. What a voice, what delivery, what dramatic pause, what speech control,
‘Let’s go quickly: I will take the
suitcase and leave for home immediately, lots of work to do,’ Samiran had
already started walking.
‘Samiran-da, won’t you stay for
some time, some sweets…’
‘No, no, I have stopped eating
‘Samiran-da, a rickshaw for you…’
‘Don’t need one, I will go walking.’
‘Samiran-da, at least take the
garland with you.’
‘You can give it to Gargari-da.’