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Get kicks from the Beautiful Game

For those judging a book by its cover, this is worth a dekho even though the boot cushioning the bright red ball isn’t the one you usually play football with.

books Updated: May 28, 2010 23:16 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

Striker, Stopper
Moti Nandy
Translated by
Arunava Sinha
Hachette
# Rs 250 # pp 208

For those judging a book by its cover, this is worth a dekho even though the boot cushioning the bright red ball isn’t the one you usually play football with.

The idea of translating Striker, Stopper, Moti Nandy’s novellas that join two ends of a footballer’s career at a time when snacks could be got for 30 paise in Kolkata, seems interesting enough. Indian sports fiction in English is rarer than our cricket teams winning World Cups, T20 or otherwise. So there’s an element of novelty about Arunava Sinha’s attempt.

But we no longer live in times when Mohun Bagan, East Bengal (to whom the book is dedicated), Mohammedan Sporting or Juger Jatri and Shobhabajar Union (clubs central to both stories) happily coexisted with black-and-white illustrations of Roy of Rovers translated in Bengali. So, whether it will work with generations for whom ‘our own’ means Liverpool and not Lajong is conjectural. Weaned on European leagues whose gloss is as removed from our domestic competitions as magic realism from
Enid Blyton, connecting with football has taken a whole new meaning since cable television invaded India.

Look beyond that and these stories have the disappointments, the struggles and the adrenalin rush intrinsic to sports. Moments that make films like Escape to Victory, Lagaan and Chak De! India what they are; moments that make Fever Pitch such a great read.

Prasoon Bhattacharya is the wannabe striker who dreams of Pele and of being a star on the Maidan. Football’s also a possible redemption song for the family because Prasoon’s father is a once-famous forward struggling to make ends meet and whose reputation’s tarred by a missed goal in an IFA Shield final. (Remember Moacir Barbosa, the 1950 World Cup goalie who was vilified till death 50 years later for the goal that helped Uruguay take the trophy from Brazil?)

Kamal Guha is the ‘Stopper’ who, having given up all for football, seeks the final hurrah that will make all
the sacrifices worth it. As with Bhattacharya, Guha has a personal point to prove and a tetchy relationship with his son to repair.

The novellas have the continuing tradition of referring to club officials by their nicknames suffixed by the ubiquitous ‘da’ (brother) — Notu-da, Poltu-da, Keshto-da — and are set in the Maidan of the late 60s-early 70s. References to footballers being exploited by clubs and matches being tanked have the authenticity of someone who has seen this world from close. Nandy did as a sport journalist of repute.

Bhattacharya, the ‘Striker’, plays a fringe part in Stopper as does his teammates Nemai and Anwar. And in both stories, the heroes show a sense of poise that separates the great from the good.

Sinha’s attempt to seek a bigger audience for the late Nandy’s fictionalised accounts of Kolkata football is laudable. The book’s worth a read for all those who think the joy of running with a football, wind in your hair and to the cheers of thousands will, like all good things, stand the test of time.