‘What!’ Auntie was aghast. ‘It is they who will be cornered by
‘Doesn’t Sarathi need you any more?’ Himadri
raised his brows. ‘If they allow you to go to Jatri, what will Bata do in the elections?’
‘The matter is not about needing or not
needing me; of course they will try to keep me back by money. Even though Bata
Biswas doesn’t like me, he knows that no other player would provide service to
the club the whole year round like me. The Sarathi supporters also know that.
But Bata Biswas will try through some of his lackeys to harass me in the field
throughout the year. If the results do not go in our favour, his boys will
throw bricks at and set fire to the tent, create a ruckus and lay the blame on
my shoulders. Of course, all problems will be solved if I join his group.’
‘You will be going to Bangalore, then you
need not play now,’ Shyamala said, providing the solution to the problem.
‘Can I go away for eternity? I will be
released from the camp, and then I have to play here. Then they will call me
again, I have to go. I will have to reach Kozhikode within the 22nd.
After the Nagjee Trophy, if Novacheck thinks so, he can keep us back for
training. Otherwise, he can release us for playing in the league. Everything
depends on him.’
will ask you to make a contract with them,’ Himadri was not asking, he seemed
to be stating the obvious. ‘Jatri too
wants you, they say they will give you more money. You listen to the rates of
the two teams.’
listening to the rates. Naku, you first improve your playing skills. Learn
everything carefully from the Czech sahib.
Increase the dignity of your country; you will find that your dignity will also
increase,’ Rekha Gupta said firmly, putting the others in a spot of bother.
is surely thinking about the dignity of the country, but why should he let go
of the money?’ Shyamala tried to keep Auntie close to reality. ‘You said just
now that he exerts himself to the utmost while playing, so he must take money,
those who give more money…’
are making a mistake,’ Himadri stopped her. ‘Auntie wants to say that Dada
should surely take money but he should also look after the dignity of the
country, isn’t it’?
that’s what I meant,’ Auntie seemed relieved at the solution. Just then they
heard the sound of a car halting before the house.
‘Who can it
be now?’ Samiran said, looking t the wall-clock. ‘At ten-thirty!’
Himadri went towards the window. Shyamala switched on the corridor light.
could be seen coming out of a green Maruti. On reaching the pathway, he
gestured towards the windows to switch off the lights.
come again, switch off the lights Mala,’ Himadri relayed from the window.
Opening the door, he asked, ‘What brings you at this late hour?’
hour, it is only ten-thirty. Trams and buses are still plying in Kolkata, food stores
are open. Yes, it is a little late to you people. Noon and night are all the
same to those of us who catch footballers.’ On noticing Samiran, Ghunu sat down
on the dining room chair, contentedly. ‘Huh, could I get you at home if I had
not arrived late?’
‘If you had
been a bit later, you would have missed Dada,’ Himadri said in a grave voice.
started, ‘Why? Why?’
‘Sarathi’s boys have come here looking
for Dada twice. Maybe they would come again at night. So Dada is not staying at
home during the night,’ Shyamala’s voice was even graver.
boys!’ Irritation, fear and anxiety were stamped on Ghunu’s countenance. ‘Banku?
Nirmal? Did they tell their names?’
didn’t. These frequent disturbances… My Part-I examination is to begin in two
months…’Shyamala added a bit of complaint to her face and expression.
right. Studying with a disturbed mind, this is not the right frame for the
preparation of an exam, let alone playing football. Naku, you pack your things.
Two shirts, two pants, one pajama will be enough.’
two pants, collect your things—what do you mean?’
came like a bolt from the blue to Samiran. He had felt the same way when those
three boys had encountered him in Basab’s gully.
that I will take you immediately to Patu’s house.’
stay there; you can sign from there, after signing you can go directly to Dumdum
and board the plane. Where shall I buy tickets for—Madras, Bangalore or
Hyderabad? Madras would be better; you can get all the flights to the South
from there.’ ‘
‘Stop, stop,’ Samiran raised his hands. ‘Why should I go to
these words, Ghunu stared at Samiran for five seconds before replying, ‘What do
you mean by why? They have come looking for you twice. Can I leave you alone
‘You want to
capture Naku?’ Auntie’s indifference had now vanished. She entered the
conversation, suspicion writ large in her eyes.
‘While I am
alive?’ On hearing her mild roar and seeing her rise, Ghunu slid backward on
the chair by about an inch. His left hand automatically made its way towards
the collar of his bush shirt.
has he done? He will play where he wishes, he will go with whom he wants. Is he
a donkey or a cow that you want to tether him to a rope?’
‘Ah, why are
you getting so angry; Naku has only two legs, why should he become a donkey or
a cow? We only want those two legs. I want to shift him to Patu’s house so that
no one else can capture him. You see red at the drop of a hat. Today
morning…’Ghunu began to rub his neck. An embarrassed Rekha Gupta stole a glance
at the three of them, and realized that they would be pulling her legs for a
long time for what she had done in the morning.
you think that I am an infant? If someone tries to capture me will I let them
capture me? Besides, who gave you the idea that I will be playing for Jatri this year?’
know that they have brought three players in your place? They have also held
out the bait for our Buku. Sarathi is
now desperate for getting one or two strikers. Otherwise, why would they offer
Buku, a player who has not scored in the derby in the last three years, two
lakhs?’ Ghunu blinked his eyes in perplexity.
Buku go to Sarathi,’ Samiran stretched his hands and tried to relax. ‘If he
gets two lakhs, he should go there.’
mad? He will score against Jatri after going to Sarathi. He has agreed to sign for two
lakhs twenty five. It is only today that I have left him at Patu’s house. Now
you come along with me.’
Kisholoy Dutta gets two lakhs twenty five, the player who hasn’t scored in a
derby for the last three years. And one lakh sixty thousand to Samiran Gupta?
Bah!’ Himadri took the first step of bargaining on behalf of his brother. ‘And
how much have you offered to Dulal Chakraborty, who is on the verge of vanprastha?’
Ghunu did not lose his temper. Blunting the
jab by an innocent smile, he remarked, ‘I agree that it is time for Dulal to go
to vanprastha, he is a thirty-five
minutes player now. But even now, he has
no substitute as defender when it comes to playing in the derby. That is why we
have to take him. As I said, we shall leave no stone unturned, Jatri will not show any miserliness in
matters of money. So, Naku?’ Ghunu made as if to rise from the chair.
Samiran stretched his legs n the chair, indicating that he was in no hurry.
sister’s studies are being hampered, her exams are approaching. I have come in
Patu’s car. Put the shirt and pant in your bag, do not forget the pajama.’
Saying the words assuredly, Ghunu, after thinking for a while, reached for his
trouser pocket, took out a new snuff-box and put a few taps on its lid. Rekha
Gupta’s eyes became rivetted on the snuff-box. Shyamala shut her mouth with her
hands. Himadri suddenly choked and ran towards the basin.
not notice all these. He was thinking, eyes closed. ‘Ghunu-da, I am not going
not have been so surprised even if he were struck with lightening. ‘You won’t be going! I have sworn to Patu
that I would be definitely taking you with me.
I shall lose face, I shall be deeply shamed….’
Ghunu-da, it is no use telling me all these. Why did you have to swear before
talking to me?’
think that Dada is a do-co?’ Shyamala could not resist a jibe.
Ghunu was perplexed. ‘What does that mean?’
‘Nothing,’ Samiran tried to hush it up. ‘Mala
has a bee in her bonnet, it causes problems sometimes.’
relieved Ghunu removed the lid of the snuff-box and put his fingers inside
it. Rekha Gupta was about to say
something, but Shyamala put her finger on her lips and motioned her to silence.
one lakh sixty is the agreement, and powder fifty thousand. That adds up to two
lakh ten thousand. I have been chasing you for the last two years, this
time…’Ghunu Mitra leaned forward on the table and extended his snuff-stained hands towards Samiran. ‘Buku
is a player of Sitesh’s group. In order to protect him, Sitesh has been trying
to prevent you from coming to Jatri
for two years. This year Patu has cornered him, but he wants to keep Buku too.
You score goals in the first two matches, the Bukus will vanish, the Siteshs
would also go down the drain.’
‘Why should Dada take fifteen thousand less
than someone whom you want to vanish?’ Himadri asked, in a cross-examining
tone. ‘Seven goals in three years, what do you think should be the value of
Ghunu looked at Samiran. The younger brother’s question was
reflected in the elder brother’s eyes also. Shaking his head despairingly,
Ghunu put a pinch of snuff inside his nose and was about to wipe his hands when
he turned pale. ‘Look, how forgetful I am. I have started taking snuff again. I
had completely forgotten that I had abandoned this today.’
throw this box too from the window?’ Shyamala asked in a very normal voice.
shook his head. ‘I will not. I have lost
face completely. You must be thinking of me as
a liar, a cheat, an actor. Maybe I am all those. By working for the
club, I have forgotten to keep to the straight and narrow.’
had turned piteous, but he managed to control himself. Putting on an innocent
smile, he said, ‘Let all that be, you better talk to Patu face to face. Let him
decide what the value of each goal will be.
It seems that I cannot take you with me today, you go tomorrow.’
‘You give me
Patu-da’s phone number, I will inform him when I would go,’ Samiran said
All of them
escorted Ghunu-da to the veranda. Suddenly, he brought his face close to Rekha
Gupta, ‘Did you go to Munni’s house?’
Who—?’ A perplexed Rekha Gupta had begun
to fumble, but by then Ghunu Mitra had opened the door of his Maruti.
you made a mess of it. How could you forget Munni so soon?’ There was a muted
pungency in Shyamala’s voice and it conveyed a tone of embarrassment.
at the last moment and scored a goal. Must have been lurking nearby the whole
day,’ Himadri bit his lips.
‘Naku, I have
been exposed as a liar to the gentleman.’ Rekha Gupta, almost in tears, looked
at Samiran. ‘What will he think of me and Mala?’
‘He won’t think anything, I know such
crafty people very well. They do not care for truth or falsehood.’
‘But I do care. I have also become an unscrupulous
person. Uhh, now I will feel the torments of hell. Naku, you please deliver me
from this situation…you better go to his club, then I will get some peace.’
Rekha Gupta quickly went towards her room. Switching off the lights, she held
her ears and started muttering, ‘Telling lies is a great sin, descent to hell….
Telling lies is a great sin….’
be heard saying in the dining room, ‘Great lady’s orders, if you disobey her,
this time it is a sure kneel down on VIP road.’
is this Samiran, I am Subodh-da, Subodh Dhara calling.’
had woken up to the ringing of the telephone. The phone was attached in a rack
in the narrow passageway between the dining space and Rekha Gupta’s room. As it
continued ringing, he was compelled to rise. ‘Begging’ did not take place on
Sunday. Auntie and Mala must have gone to the market. Kanu was also not present
in the house.
Samiran looks at the watch. It was a quarter past six.
‘Did I wake you from
had been load shedding the whole night, just dozed off in the morning,’ He
conveyed the sound of yawning through the phone.
then I have committed a mistake. You can take rest now, I will call you later.’
am not feeling sleepy, tell me what you have to tell.’ Suppressing his
irritation, he spoke in an amiable tone.
is there to say, the way things are at the club. These people, I mean Ghunu and the others, did not find a
coach, they had to settle on Ajay Talukder. The person has never coached a big
team, he has had no success other than coaching two small teams and relegating them to the B group, hasn’t
got a coaching degree or diploma, has no
football sense; a person who has never cooked anything other than hotchpotch
and sauce has been made the chief chef of a five-star hotel… Hello, hello, can
you hear me?’
I can. But why are you telling all this to me early in the morning. I am not Jatri’s player.’
went to your house yesterday to pick you up. He failed. I knew he would fail. Can
these people who have now come into the committee ever give you, a player who
is going to become India’s captain, your deserved respect? They think that just
by shelling out money Samiran Gupta will come running, can such things happen? I
know it is not possible for you to run from one club to another for the sake of
money like boys belonging to pauper families. I know what sort of a family you belong
to…Hello, the line has been disturbing for a few days, hello…’
can hear all right, you can continue.’
know very well what sort of a person Ghunu is. He has studied up to Class eight;
he used to open the doors of Naran Sen’s car earlier, now he rides Patu’s car
to catch players. In Naran-da’s time, if the secretary did not call him, he
could not enter the room. And now he sometimes sits on Patu’s chair too. The
club’s dignity is being spoilt because of such people. You have still not
received your ten thousand rupees.’
he listened to this rambling talk, Samiran understood that Subodh Dhara was
deliberately trying to mislead him. A sudden idea flashed across his mind. It was
not often that one got an opportunity to make fun of such people.
regarding the money, someone told me that it was you…’
did you say, what did you say, I have misappropriated your money? I have never
in my entire life cheated anyone of a single paisa. Ghunu must have told you. Actually,
Ghunu had taken your money by signing it. I had seen his signature on the
why did you not phone me then? Really, Dhara-da, you love me so much, still you
forgot to give me this news? If you had told me, I would not have said yes.’
means? What does yes mean? Did you say yes to Ghunu?’
I have any option? Can I say no to an offer of a quarter to three lakhs?’
Samiran did not receive any sound from the
other end for ten seconds. He smiled. The medicine had taken effect.
Dhara-da, the line is all right, hello, Ghunu-da said, the way Buku had flopped
last year everyone wants me. The members have been saying that Buku Dutta has
turned from a hero into a heroine. Now he can take part in folk-theatre. Patu-da
had said that I am signing a blank cheque, bring Samiran to me. Look what a fix
I am in. On the other hand, Bata-da is saying that if I go to Jatri, he shall start a fast before our
death. What can I do?’
have said yes to Ghunu, is that your final word or are you playing along with
Dhara-da, is there anything like final word nowadays? So many stars have
somersaulted even half an hour before signing.’
this time such tricks will be of no avail. Bata and Patu have already filled
their styes with players. Buku has also
shifted to Patu’s house. Among those who are left you are one, I am surprised
as to why Bata has left you alone? Doesn’t Sarathi need you? Vinu John has
arrived yesterday, Karnail is coming today, is Sarathi not keeping you this year?’
stiffened for a few seconds on hearing the news concerning Vinu and Karnail. In
order to be sure, he said, ‘As far as I know, Vinu is not coming, and Punjab
police will refuse to let go of Karnail. But Bata-da will raise the rumour that
he has brought them to win the election.’
mild chuckle from the other end struck Samiran’s ears telling him that his
words had been refuted.
‘You are too naïve, Samiran. I
myself have taken Vinu and kept him in my friend’s house in Chandannagar. For
the sake of Jatri Bata has to win the
election. We have to spread a rumour that Albuquerque is coming to Sarathi. The
newspapers are in my control, the rumour will spread. I have done a lot of help
for Bata in the case of Karnail.’
did you do so? To ruin Patu-da?’
the clenching of teeth tickled Samiran’s ears through the phone. It seemed that
Subodh Dhara had suddenly gone mad. ‘And now, you listen, if you come to Jatri, you too will be ruined.
senses became alert as he listened to those words. He said warily, ‘By trying to ruin Patu-da,
you will be doing a great disservice to Jatri.’
I will do so for the club. They do not have a plan, a scheme, they are only
shelling out money to catch footballers. All this has come from Ghunu’s head.
The more money is spent the more he will get his share of money. If we take so
many players, we would be in serious trouble. Just think, four in the left back
position, nine in the midfield. This is the way recruitment is taking place,
advance is being given. Can anyone other than a crank do things in this way?
Ajay has said, bring me Samiran. You are his first choice. If you fail only
then will Buku get a place in the team. Is this the way to build a team? If you
fail only then Buku gets into the team? Does Ajay consider the club his
you are a well-wisher of the club, the godfather of Buku too. I have heard that
if the club does not win the league you go into mourning for one month, you do
not wear shoes. Then why did you remove Baku from the field during last year’s
league match against Sarathi by
telephoning him that his mother had had a heart attack? Baku was playing quite
well then. He might have even scored a goal after a long time. He desperately
needed a goal to get back his lost confidence. On that day, you did a great
disservice both to Baku and to the club at the same time.’
uttering the words in slow, measured tones, Samiran bowed his head and closed
his eyes. He felt bad when he saw a good footballer ruined. He used to respect
Buku as a player. But not any more. Buku had brought his own downfall by
aligning himself with the Dhara group in club politics. After seeing and
hearing all these, he had kept himself at arm’s length from such inter-group
squabbling in Sarathi.
you are intelligent, educated. You have a reputation of keeping away from all
dirty pies. A boy belonging to a poor family, Buku has earned in seven to eight
years what he could not have earned in three generations. About ten lakhs from Jatri and three thousand a month by
working at the bank. I have noticed from the last two years that the desire to
play has evaporated from Buku. Knowing fully
well that he can never play to his true potential again, I had phoned him about
his mother’s heart attack to remove him from the ground. He has not suffered
any loss due to this. But what I wanted to happen did take place. Fire was set
to the gallery after we lost the match. Buku might have scored a goal that day
but he would never have got back his self-confidence. In order to do so, you
have to make football your religion. As Buku will not be able to do so, I am
using him for my own purpose. And he too knows that he has no option left but
to work overtime and earn some extra bucks.
But you are ambitious, you want to achieve success, you are dangerous.’
this praise, or censure?’
did not pay any attention to the words. He went on, ‘The reason why I called
you, you stay at Sarathi, I will
increase your rate. I will spread a
rumour in the papers that you have received an offer of two and a half lakhs
from Jatri. Having heard that Sarathi has offered two lakhs to Buku,
Ghunu has picked him up. Bata will also pick you up.’
again heard the chuckle on the other end.
He asked hesitatingly, ‘But two lakhs, two and a half lakhs, will people
believe all this?’
do you mean by will, they have believed. I repeat, you will face problems if
you come to Jatri, you won’t be able
to play… I won’t let you play.’
The clicking of the phone on the other end and
the ringing of the door-bell took place almost simultaneously. Rekha Gupta and
Shyamala had returned from the market.
how incredibly lucky you are, it so happened that only today six-inch long
trunk to tail tiger prawns were available in the market after a long time. That
memsahib of ‘A’ Block, who goes to
the market dressed in a housecoat, was leaning down before the fish seller, pinching
the prawns to scrutinize their health. And auntie, the way she darted through the
crowd from forty feet…it was evident that she had played basketball once.’
a grave voice issued from the kitchen.
auntie, I am not narrating the entire episode.’ Shyamala assured auntie before
looking at Samiran, goggle-eyed. ‘She made a run after making an impossible
dribble. ‘Three or four gentlemen narrowly managed to balance themselves after
getting a jolt, but auntie must have committed a red-card foul on memsahib. Straight she went and gave a side
push, memsahib went down, with one
hand she grabbed all the prawns and put them on the scale, saying, “Weigh them,
I am buying all of them.” All of these happened in one action. The fish seller
knows Auntie. Without speaking a word, he put on the weights and declared, ‘One
kilo fifty grams, eighty rupees and four rupees, eighty four rupees…you give me
two rupees less, I know that Samiran-da has returned yesterday.’ By the time memsahib was back on her feet, I had got
the fishes in my bag.’
again from the kitchen.