Yellow Fever: Why my heart beats for Brazil

  • Aasheesh Sharma
  • Updated: Aug 22, 2016 16:19 IST
Neymar after helping his team win gold at the Rio Olympics (REUTERS)

When armchair critics on television suggest local fans were rallying behind PV Sindhu in the semi-final against Japan’s Nozomo Okuhara, since she was wearing yellow jersey, a smile comes to my face. When the Brazilian Olympic skipper is christened ‘Neymar the Redeemer’ in tabloid headlines after helping his country win gold in the football finale at the Maracana, I can feel a sense of vindication, almost.

When critics were booing Brazil after they were decimated by Germany in the World Cup in 2014, I was still standing solidly behind the men in canary yellow.

It isn’t that I have a Portuguese connection or stay in Goa. But at my heart, I identify with the romance that Brazil symbolises. To me, it isn’t just a humid land in faraway Latin America. Brazil is a state of the mind: where athletes make the world take notice with the sheer dint of their sporting brilliance. Think Ronaldinho, who grew up in a favela (a shanty town) and went on to capture the imagination of the football world.

Think Pele, who polished shoes on a railway station and played barefoot before joining Santos and wowing the world with three World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970. If you argue that this reeks of nostalgia, cut to the present and relive the story of Rafaela Silva, who grew up among drug dealers and street urchins in Rio’s Cidade de Deus favela before winning Brazil’s first gold medal in Rio 2016 by clinching the judo final with a 10-0 margin.

Brazil's Neymar poses with his son Davi Lucca after the medal ceremony of the final match of the mens's Olympic football tournament between Brazil and Germany at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro . (AP)

I have my reasons to be a Brazil groupie. My late father, a professor of English, made sure he narrated enough stories about the time he watched Pele play in flesh and blood in Kolkata. How he was the greatest number 10 to walk the earth, Diego Maradona be damned! And how the gumption and opportunism that a Romario displayed during the 1994 World Cup, comes naturally to the men in yellow. Yes the same Romario, whose father was kidnapped before the World Cup and he didn’t let that come in the way of winning the title. Before the advent of YouTube, my father made sure I read enough dog-eared editions of football books (The Wills Book of Excellence still adorns pride of place on my shelf) that analysed the hype around the 1982 Selecao, where the trinity of Zico, Socrates and Falcao made the term The Beautiful Game come alive and how Pele wouldn’t have been Pele had Garrincha and Vava not helped him be what he was.

My loyalty towards Brazil hasn’t diminished with the sad fact that I couldn’t visit the country like my illustrious sports journalist colleagues either during the World Cup 2012 or the present Olympics. In my mind, I’ve visited Rio thousands of times and flown into the city soaring over Christ the Redeemer and had many a drink at the noisy bar that Romario’s father opened for everybody after the team won the title in 1994! I’ve been in the grip of yellow fever for decades now, but I love it!

Follow on Twitter @Aasheesh74

From HT Brunch, August 28, 2016

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