When a Bengal tigress and a Gir lion have each other in their crosshairs, it is better billed as a Big Game Hunt. But it is football that’s having a field day: ‘khela’ alludes to only that in Kolkata. The main strikers of both teams are a match for each other. One may be a far richer club, but Mamata desperately hopes to replicate recent cricket history, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Sandeep Adhwaryu’s stunning TOI cartoon of a bandaged-shin Mamata digging in her heels atop a football could well be captioned, ‘When your electoral prospects are down, give them a leg up.’ Too bad, the EC refused to show the BJP a red card on the alleged foul play.
In Kolkata, football rivalry is as deep-seated as conspiracy. Long decades before the BJP and TMC began scripting each other’s Waterloo, battles were won on actual playing fields. Not of cricket’s Eden, but the respective grounds of storied adversaries, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. The former was established in 1889; Jorabagan Club’s VP Suresh Chandra Chaudhuri, incensed by star half-back Sailesh Bose being left out of the squad, established the latter in 1920.The century-old rivalry peaks in the ‘Boro Match’, now also called the Kolkata Derby. The last one, on February 19, was at Goa’s Fatorda Stadium, but the roars of ‘Goal!!’s past are alive and kicking on the old home turfs.
Naturally, young girls had no place in that ‘matchismo’. But, as a nine-year-old, I found myself caught in the thick of things, namely, one of the inevitable post-khela riots that had spilled over to nearby Esplanade. The unforgettable cameo is of the terrifying bedlam, and Mum vainly yanking my toddler sister who was rooted to the spot, mesmerized by the formidable mounted police on their thundering steeds.
Creative Cal unites its quintessential markers, football and fish. When Mohun Bagan wins, ‘Gelda Chingdi’, the jumbo prawn, is consumed in celebratory quantities. If East Bengal, it’s the delicate ilish or hilsa. The price of either soars accordingly that evening. In 2017, Durga Puja’s Chaturthi coincided with the Calcutta Football League final, followed by the U-17. The savvy CM announced a contest between the Chingdi XI and Ilish XI. Across the city, 19 stalls offered 11 dishes of each of these mascots.
Today’s political ‘khela’ has the same visceral rivalry. Didi declared she’s the goalie, though she may have just scored an own goal. She still retains her bravado, warning ‘Don’t Messi with me.’ But what Mamadona needs is the ‘hand of God’.
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This article is intended to bring a smile to your face. Any connection to events and characters in real life is coincidental.
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