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Say Samba with Kolkatans

When Ronaldinho catches a cold, soccer fans in Kolkata sneeze. This is no overstatement if one visits Kolkata now - the World Cup countdown has begun in India's Brazil-besotted soccer capital.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2006 17:18 IST

When Ronaldinho catches a cold, soccer fans in Kolkata sneeze. This is no overstatement if one visits Kolkata now - the World Cup countdown has begun in India's Brazil-besotted soccer capital with the otherwise red bastion of Communism turning yellow-green, the colours of the South American nation.

In a city where soccer mania has divided the population between archrival clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan for several decades, it is Brazil that unites the people when it comes to international soccer, though Argentina still holds up its own.

With no Election Commission whip to crack like in case of political graffiti, Kolkata's walls have been painted yellow-green with larger than life figures of Ronaldinho and Ronaldo in various modes of dribbling. England's injury-hit Wayne Rooney and Argentina's Lionel Messi also get a look-in.

And, despite Maradona's retirement from soccer, Kolkata's commitment to the Argentinean has not waned.

While Kalighat in south Kolkata is the place to spot the best wall graffiti on Brazil and Argentina, many other neighbourhoods have also caught up.

It is not just the walls - as a visit to Subhas Sangha Club in Kalighat proves.

Here youngsters paint their faces with the colours of Brazil. A few also sport the colours of Argentina and Holland.,0.htm

One can truly mistake the city's Maidan Market in downtown Esplanade area as a something straight out of Rio de Janerio. The rows of sport goods shops here are stocked with yellow and green jerseys of Brazil besides other soccer souvenirs, caps and flags of other playing nations.

"The demand for Brazil jerseys is the highest, followed by Argentina, though other countries are selling well too. The teenagers are experimenting with other European countries but those from the older generation still prefer Brazil," said a shopkeeper of Maidan Market who is doing brisk business.

Sports dressing and fashion is in. The economical Maidan Market apart, in many big and branded outlets, soccer T-shirts are available for a mere Rs.200 while jackets and jerseys retail for Rs.500.

Even women clothing items have names and symbols and flags of participating countries, indicating that women are as much fond of football as men.

Then, there's the fashion scene.

Though David Beckham is no longer England's main man and the World Cup might be his swansong, the 31-year-old midfielder rules the fashion scene with his glamorous lifestyle, dress sense and tattoos as much as his "Bend it like Beckham" free kicks.

A quick survey of the city's beauty parlours and saloons revealed it is Beckham who still calls the shots when it comes to a World Cup hairdo.

"Many youngsters are asking for the current Beckham look. However, guys with long hair prefer Ronaldinho and (Italian Alexandro) Del Pierro. The colours they want for the hair are, however, not shocking green or purple," Raman Bhardwaj, hair stylist at A.N. John on the city's happening Park Street.

Sujit Bhagat at the Habib's outlet on Ho Chi Minh Sarani had a slightly different experience.

"We got someone who wanted a Ronaldo look. Of course, Beckham fans are dropping in for a crew cut (his current style). There are those who still fancy his last Cup's tomahawk (hairstyle)."

The city's electricity providers are well aware of the World Cup frenzy and are not taking any chances.

"In case of any breakdown (June 9-July 19) we will deploy additional forces so that power can be restored immediately," Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation executive director (Distribution) S.S. Sinha assured.

The soccer frenzy is no less intense in other parts of West Bengal, especially in the mini metros.

In Siliguri in north Bengal, soccer jerseys and caps are selling by the hundreds.

So, why are Bengalis sleeping, eating and dreaming soccer and rooting for Brazil? Why are yellow-green banners, bunting, streamers and festoons waving in the air and why are people endlessly debating on the superiority of the Latin American country?

Indian football captain Baichung Bhutia feels Kolkata loves Brazil "for the sheer style of their play. Of course, Pele is also a big reason".

Said Arup Biswas, a diehard soccer fan and a Brazil supporter: "I think Kolkata's Brazil conversion dates to the visit of (soccer legend) Pele in 1977 to play a match organised here. And, more than power play, Kolkatans have always been connoisseurs of soccer artistry. So, Brazil is their unanimous choice as it combines 60 percent skill with 40 percent power.

Often, the reason behind the support is rooted in India's colonial past.

Said Kolkata-based author Amit Chowdhury: "I support Brazil for emotional reasons. When it comes to whites playing non-whites, I can't help but support the non-whites."

According to football fan Amar Mitra, "Brazil is a third world country like ours. That is one reason. But above all we like their brand of soccer".

First Published: Jun 03, 2006 17:18 IST