The passion World Cup generates in Kolkata can look a bit out of place as India have never played in the event. Yet, every four years there is no stopping Bengalis from straining their vocal cords and shedding tears of joy or pain for the teams they adopt for a month.
It isn’t only about putting up giant screens — the state government has promised to install 40 across the city — or pubs or restaurants laying out Cup-themed menus. It is also when the club premises of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan wear a deserted look as players and officials take a break.
Even sandesh, a sweetmeat intrinsic to Bengal’s food culture, isn’t spared. Argentine Magic, Brazilian Samba, English Free-Kick, French Header and German Blitzkrieg are some of the special sandesh flying off the shelf at Nalin Chandra Das & Sons, a 175-year-old city confectionary.
Argentina’s popularity has zoomed since Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi visited the city in 2008 and 2011 respectively, but Brazil’s connection with Kolkata was one forged much earlier.
Arunava Kar, a 39-year-old Bagan fan is lucky to hold tickets for the World Cup quarter-finals and semi-finals. His 15-day trip to Brazil will cost around `10 lakh but it’s a pilgrimage that has to be undertaken, having grown up listening to stories of Pele gracing Eden Gardens with the New York Cosmos in 1977.
The closest India came to playing in a World Cup was in 1950 in Brazil, but chose not to go. For those like Arunava, travelling to Brazil 64 years later is nothing short of going home.