A Football Match

(This is a feeble translation of a story by Bengali writer Narayan Gangopadhyay. Paalaram has scored the only goal in the football game, and everyone is cheering him. But, Paalaram is hiding behind the bushes. What could be the reason?)

It is I who had scored the goal! I could still hear their shouts, "Three cheers for Paalaram ... hip hip hurray!" They should have been dancing after lifting me on their shoulders. They should also have treated me to a sumptuous meal in some good restaurant. But, instead, I was stuck here trying to ward off an army of mosquitoes who were bent upon sucking every drop of blood in my body. I was hiding behind the bushes with muck all around me and these infernal mosquitoes for company.

"Three cheers for Paalaram," I heard them shout again. One large mosquito plunged its stinger into my left cheek and I slapped hard. My head swam under the impact of my own slap; I could not recall whether our mathematics teacher, Gopibabu, had ever slapped me so hard.

I wanted to yell out in pain, but I checked myself just in time. I must remain quiet, very quiet, for at least an hour. I could come out of my hiding only when dusk fell so that no one would recognise me in the dark.

The shouts of "Three cheers for Paalaram .... hip hip hurray", began to melt away in the distance.

I am Paalaram from Potoldanga, but who could have imagined that I would have to leave Potoldanga and end up in this dirty place!

I am a very enthusiastic member of our Potoldanga Thunder Football Club; I don't play myself, but always cheer and motivate the players. If our team does win any match, which usually never happens, I become feverish with joy.

As long as I was only a member of the club, things were all right. Matters took a turn for the worse when I became a player.

A football match was scheduled between our team and the Vagabond Club from Dumdum. Since the last three days, I was practising to sing after borrowing my sister's harmonium so that I could be in good shape to cheer for my team on the day of the match.

A very shocking news awaited us when we reached Dumdum. We have two formidable players Bhontu and Ghontu, who are brothers. Both of them go to the gym regularly. They are reliable backs who don't allow rival players to get past them. They have broken the legs of countless rival players who have tried to get past them to score goals. But the brothers broke the leg of their own club - Potoldanga Thunder Football Club. The traitors declared that they will not be available for the match against the Vagabonds since they had to attend their uncle's marriage.

Tenida, our captain, was crestfallen. He let out a stream of expletives that was directed at the two brothers. But expletives were no solution to our present predicament. Nara Mittir, the rival team's forward, was a dynamo and cross-eyed. Our goal-keeper, Gobra, gets confused when he encounters cross-eyed players; he cannot make out from where the ball may come. Cross-eyed Nara could shoot off quite a few goals!

Tenida's domestic help Bhajua had accompanied us to Dumdum. Bhajua is a stout chap and Tenida had brought him along in case there was any trouble after the match. Bhajua could come in useful then.

Tenida looked at him quizzically. "Can you play as a back?" he asked Bhajua.

Bhajua was about to pop some tobacco into his mouth. "What is a back?" he asked.

Tenida explained. "All that you have to do is to hit out at the ball when it comes to you. Do you think you will be able to do it?"

Bhajua nodded in assent. "I will hit the ball and the players as well," he said excitedly.

Tenida sighed in relief. One substitute had been found. Now for the other. He looked this way and that and finally rested his eyes on me. "Paala will play," he declared.

The referee blew his whistle and before I could say anything, Tenida pushed me into the play-field. I would have fallen but controlled myself. Instead of creating a scene, let me try to score a few goals, I thought to myself.

The match started.


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