Friday, 7 January 2011

An Unfulfilled Wish

Of an unfulfilled wish to pay tribute to a teacher with a goal
(Courtesy: The Sentinel)

By Ramlal Sinha

To me, my first love — soccer — is much more than a game. Right from my childhood when heavy shower and scorching sun had little difference in me while playing football, I had the habit of thinking soccer, dreaming soccer and planning soccer. In fact, it was soccer that I performed with more attention than anything else in my life. While having meal, I have the habit of thinking many things that have nothing to do with my diet. So also in reading, and for this I am paying a heavy price even today. On the contrary, I don’t remember of thinking anything else other than football while playing a match. Even then, I would like to fall short of making any statements like “soccer is my religion or next to my religion” or anything else of that sort. Maybe, this is one of the reasons why I failed to translate my first love into my profession. After entering my professional life, I have been only an occasional soccer player, playing about three to four matches a year. To be precise, at this age, I can only play events like the inter-media football tournament that is organized yearly by the Sports Journalists’ Association of Assam as I get players of ages between 18 years and 55 years in this tourney.

I had gone to Silchar in August 2006 in connection with the holding of the Kapaklei-Tanu Sahitya Sanmelan — a congregation of litterateurs that myself and my siblings hold every year in memory of our parents. On my arrival at Kachudharam, my native place on the outskirts of Silchar town, soccer fever griped me when I came to know that the Harekrishna Mukherjee Memorial Football Tournament was going on at that time. Late Harekrishna Mukherjee was my teacher and a guide for me and many of my senior and junior colleagues in various aspects of social life. Besides being one of the founder teachers of Chincoorie Bagan High School, which he led from the front as the headmaster later on, late Mukherjee was the president of the Assam State Committee of the Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Mahasabha. Besides being the darling of the students, he was a devoted social worker, a poet, an orator of repute and a gentleman true to the sense. He was fondly called by his students as Bhrigumoni sir or Bhrigu sir.

I went to Chincoorie Bagan Playground with the players of Prativa Sangha of Kachudharam for which I had played many matches in my soccer career. When I saw ‘evergreen’ Motorda attired in a black short and a black T-shirt running along one of the lines with a red flag in his hand, I took a trip down memory lane. I felt as if I was in my teens. Ageing Motorda is a football coach, a sports organizer and darling of the teens, especially for his ‘defiance’ to his age, both physically and mentally. Myself and many of my fellow players were trained under him. The first big rural tournament that we played is the Krishna Kanta Memorial Running Tournament that Motorda and his siblings organize every year in memory of their departed father.

Slowly, my mind started to foster a wish that couldn’t be fulfilled at any rate at that situation. Since the playground where I was a spectator on that day is the one in which I had groomed as a soccer player, my mind got impregnated with the wish of paying tribute to my beloved teacher — late Harekrishna Mukherjee — with a hard-fought goal in the tournament that was under way in his memory.

I bothered the least to keep records of my ‘career scorecard’ in soccer. Be that as it may, my feeling on that day was such that — had the ‘dream goal’ which I wished to score as tribute to my teacher been netted, that would have certainly outweighed all the goals that I had scored in my life.

Most of the players playing for Prativa Sangha on that day were my nephews who are not less than 22 years junior to me. I was literally in the catch-22 situation. Not being a down-to-earth man, my mind was almost ready to vie for the ball on the slippy green ground at that moment but I fell short of undertaking that sort of ‘misadventure’ as I didn’t get the mandatory nod from my body. After the breather, when one of the club members asked me whether I was in a position to play the match for the club, my response to the question was not in consonance with my mind. My reply was a passive no. Despite my fervent wish to pay tribute to Harekrishna Mukherjee Sir with a goal, I refused to play the match because I was aware of the reality that in my late 40s I would find the players of that tournament simply too hot for me. This apart, I was apprehensive of the fact that my ‘misadventure’ might cost my club dearly. I know how painful a defeat in a match exactly is. My club came out winner 1-0, but the joy of the victory of my club seemed to be mysteriously missing in me. As if the pain of not being able to pay my last respect — tribute — to my teacher with a goal robbed me of the joy of the victory. However, I am sure that I would have been pained even more hadn’t my club made it to the semifinal in that tourney on that day. The win for Prativa Sangha on that day was at least a solace for me amid the agony of my unfulfilled wish.

On my way back home along with the players of Prativa Sangha, I came to know that a meeting was slated to be held at 8 pm on that day in the community mandap of Kachudharam. I was an invitee to the meet, the agenda of which was fund raising for the tournament and drawing a strategy for the playing eleven.

The meeting began with Prativa Sangha president Rasamay Sinha, a devoted member of the Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Mahasabha, in the chair. Some of my senior former players, sports-loving elders of the village and some players of the team were at the meeting. One of my former senior players asked me whether I would be able to play in that tourney for the club. Though my response to the question was a guarded no, that very question revived my wish to pay tribute to Harekrishna Sir with a goal yet again. The irony is that when I was at the playground at the end of the match on that very day, I could come to the conclusion that my ‘seemingly impossible wish’ to pay tribute to my teacher was dead as dodo at least in that tournament in that year (Harekrishna Memorial Football Tournament is a running event).

Indecisive that I was on the matter of taking part in the semifinal match, I couldn’t concentrate on the agenda of the meeting. I hurried back home after the meeting as I had a jam-packed schedule the very next day in connection with the Kapaklei-Tanu Sahitya Sanmelan. The next morning, I went out with the invitation letters of the sahitya sanmelan talking my first cousin Champalal Sinha, a poet of repute, along with me.

We were very tired as we had to serve the letters to litterateurs who are sparsely distributed in areas like Vivekananda Road, Rangirkhari and Ashram Road in Silchar town, and Bhakatpur, Singari, Kalinjar, Noyagram, Chincoorie, Kachudharam etc on the outskirts of Silchar.

On our way back home, we were literally racing against time to get the semifinal match before it was started. When we reached Chincoorie Bagan High School, my cousin went home to bath and take meal, but I went straight to the playground by walking at least two kilometres more. When I reached the field, it was full of spectators and I was not getting a suitable place to stand. At last, I rushed to the right side of the gallery that was occupied mostly by spectators from the fair sex, and found all those who were considered think-tank of the Prativa Sangha team. Veteran soccer player Captain (Retd) Kunja Mohan Sinha, whom I fondly call as Bathada, was shouting at the Prativa Sangha players for their on-field mistakes. Another former player who was active outside the field in drawing strategy for the team was Rajendra Sinha (Manua). A little before the breather, the rival team, a club from Chadrapur near Silchar town, scored a goal, and that was enough to send seemingly key strategy maker of the Prativa Sangha team, Manua, to a tizzy. Soon he started to put pressure on Bothada to make some changes of the players. On repeated pleas from Manua, Bothada gave the nod at last. The first half of the match was barren for Prativa Sangha.

What I observed in the first half of the match on that day was that a bit aged yet the most potent player of Prativa Sangha of the day was Pranab Sinha. He was, however, not properly fed with the ball by those who were assigned for the job. Since most of the players of the club were hired ones from a particular locality, they had an on-field lobby among them for ground coordination. The regular players of the club like Prabal Sinha (Multhum) and Pranab Sinha were hardly fed with the ball by the lobby.

In the second half of the match, Pranab did make an attempt with a powerful right footer, but the rival keeper could fist the ball by taking a desperate drive. A ray of hope made a quick flash in me, and I started to shout at the players of my club to keep Pranab regularly fed with the ball. The hired players’ act of restricting the ground coordination almost among themselves deprived Pranab of more chances, and as such the much-screamed-about leveller remained elusive for Prativa Sangha. It was a twin defeat for me— the exit of Prativa Sangha from the tourney and my failure to pay tribute to late Harekrishna Sir in the very way I wished.

In the final the following Sunday, the club from Chandrapur came out winner by beating a club from Dudhpatil 2-1. Unlike the semifinal encounter between Prativa Sangha and the club from Chandrapur when I was restless for the much-needed leveller, I enjoyed the final at ease as I had little to worry for the defeat of any of the two teams though I was slightly inclined towards the Dudhpatil side on the ground that the club did not field more hired players the way their rival club did.

Then followed the prize-giving ceremony that made me recall ‘orator Harekrishna Sir’ yet again when Samir Sinha, a microphone-friendly youth of Chincoorie, delivered a speech. I apologized to Harekrishna Sir for not being able to pay him tribute with a goal in the tournament that was organized to honour him. I was, however, conscious enough to limit my apology only for that day as my wish to pay tribute to my departed Sir with a goal proudly refuses to die down even today.
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