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Yet, I love this beautiful game

A German free kick curved and dipped dangerously towards the Argentine net as the coffin bearing my father’s remains lay unattended.

Kingshuk Mukherji
Tue, Jul 8 2014

About Kingshuk

My thoughts are that of a wanderer in search of an address. Err, many addresses actually. And unique life experiences. I am an expert at nothing but curious about most things. If my writing provides a moment's joy or respite to a fellow traveller looking for a destination, I would have done my job.
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বরিশালের বাঙাল

My many Kolkata

Around this time, four years ago, my father was flown in from Hamburg, in a coffin. He had died on a train to the German city after a massive heart attack. A fellow traveller, who had embraced Baba in the nick of time saving him from collapsing on the station platform, recalled later how he could feel life ebbing from my father as he slowly went limp in his arms. They had pulled him on to the train and for about an hour medics struggled to revive him. His last words to my mother, travelling with him, were: “You go ahead, don’t stop for me.”

It was traumatic, first reaching my devastated mother stranded in a faraway German city and then arranging to get father back home to Calcutta.

That evening, the Emirates flight from Hamburg had touched down at Calcutta’s Netaji Subhas Bose International Airport around 7.30pm. I was at the airport to receive my father, variously referred to by airport authorities as “the consignment” and “the body”. A hearse was parked outside and relatives had come along.

The chatter at the waiting area revolved around the Beautiful Game. The 2010 Soccer World Cup was on in South Africa. That evening, Argentina was to clash with Germany. And, by the time my “consignment” got past the luggage-handling area, the big two of international soccer were well into the joust. The airline authorities directed me to the godown, where the coffin had been taken. They’d “release it to me after necessary paperwork”.

The warehouse is an enormous, cavernous structure, actually a huge hall with rows of offices. A German undertaker, very mindful of the dignity of the dead, had embalmed my father’s body with extreme care and had laid it to rest in a varnished, sculpted coffin that sat on a platform in one corner of the storehouse.

The officer who was supposed to fill in the forms, verify details and complete the formalities sat in one of those cabins. A raucous crowd of hooting, shrieking people blocked the entrance to his office, glued to a TV set placed strategically on the babu’s desk. Unmindful of the world around him, the officer like everyone else in that cabin was immersed in the contest. Gentle persuasion didn’t work. So, I nudged, shoved and tripped a couple of bad-mouthing, cussing soccer enthusiasts to push into the rectangular office and present myself in front of the officer.

“Sir, the coffin bearing my father’s remains are here, could you please clear it,” I pleaded with him. No response. “Sir please..”, I dissolved my voice in honey this time wary not to irritate him. Clearly, this was the wrong moment and perhaps the wrong pitch. A German free kick curved and dipped dangerously towards the Argentine net, missing it by a whisker. The babu’s heart nearly popped out of his mouth as he jumped out of his chair and the crowd went “Ooooof”.

The near-miss had agitated the room-full of what appeared to be die hard Argentine supporters. As I stood there awkward and tense, I felt flush with anger. The officer suddenly stood up, walked over to a side table, eyes refusing to leave the screen and sipped water from a glass. “Khoob jor benche gelam (just about escaped disaster),” he mumbled.

Just then an uncle, who had managed to cut through the chaos and crowds, reached me. I heard his voice boom: “Aarey dada, ki byapar ta ki, edikey ektu dekhun, shoonoon (What’s wrong with you, look here and listen).” The gruffness, power and irreverence in his voice worked. Suddenly a hush descended on the room. My uncle was far from gentle and certainly not the English-medium type. He meant business. The officer woke up from his soccer reverie with a start. Eyebrows corrugated, he looked at us puzzled. “Hein bolun… (yes, tell me),” he stammered. At last, things were moving.

We took our father home, where his remains were kept for a while, before the journey to the crematorium began.

It was late, past midnight. A gloom had descended on Calcutta. Argentina had taken a hammering. Many were mourning with their devastated brethren in Buenos Aires. As the hearse waded through a sea of silence, the driver abruptly eased the van to one side of the road, cut the motor and jumped out. He hurried towards a group of youngsters in a roadside huddle. “Tora kuso puttolika ready kor, aami ekhuni smashan thhekey ghurey ashchi (You get the effigy ready, I’ll be back from the crematorium in a while),” he shouted at them and scurried back to the van.

Curious, I asked him whose effigy would he burn at the dead of night “Aarey dada, Argentina-r, aar kaar,” he glared at me as ripples of agitation and hurt played on his gruff face in the cold, silver light of a distant streetlamp. Instantly, he revved up the motor and zipped to the crematorium, where I said my final good bye to my father.

True, the Beautiful Game and its biggest carnival bring back memories of that sad day. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever sit back and enjoy the music, mathematics and poetry of a good game of soccer. The game will remain beautiful as ever.

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Nirmalya Nag (Friday, Jul 11 2014):
Another well written piece from Kingshuk Mukherjee. Two contrasting events were merged beautifully.


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