A football match
(A feeble translation of a story by Bengali writer Narayan Gangopadhyay)
It is I who had scored the goal! I could still hear their shouts, "Three cheers for Palaram .... 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 here I was 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 Palaram," 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 stopped myself just in time. I had to 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 as I slunk away.
The shouts of "Three cheers for Palaram .... hip hip hurray", began to melt away in the distance.
I am Palaram 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 do not 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.
So long as I was a member, things were all right. Matters took a turn for the worse when I became a player.
A match was scheduled between our team and the Vagabond Club of Dumdum. I had borrowed my sister's harmonium and had been practising for the past three days so that I could 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 do not 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 determine 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. "Pala 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 play started.
I was playing as a back. I thought Bhajua would be able to manage perfectly on his own - but I discovered that other than being a loud mouth, he did not have any skills. When the ball came to him, Bhajua attempted a huge shot. But his leg missed the ball completely and he crashed on to the ground. Luckily, goalkeeper Gobra was alert or else it would have been a sure goal.
Gobra sent the ball flying into the centre of play and our right-out Habul Sen trapped it neatly and rushed towards the rival's goal. I heaved a sigh of relief that the danger had passed.
But how long can you expect peace to reign in a football field? The very next moment I saw Nara Mittir approaching our side at terrific speed. Bhajua went to challenge Nara but could not even touch him. Only I stood between Nara and Gobra now. "Charge ... Charge. Pala charge," my captain Tenida yelled at me.
I closed my eyes and kicked. Surprise! Nara Mittir stood stupefied and ball went flying to Habul Sen.
"Bravo, bravo Pala. Well saved," the crowd cheered. My chest swelled in pride ... I, Palaram, had actually staved off an attack from Nara Mittir!
But here was Nara Mittir approaching again. This time it was providence, rather cow dung, which saved me. Some cow had chosen the football ground as a toilet and Nara slipped over the dung and fell. I cleared the ball and the stadium once again echoed with shouts of "Bravo Pala, bravo".
The referee blew his whistle to signal half-time. "You are playing very well," Tenida said coming up to me, "you must be given an opportunity to play in other matches from now on". After hearing such compliments, I downed two glasses of lime juice and steeled myself for the second half.
The play in the second half resumed. Immediately after commencement of the play here was Nara Mittir charging like a mad bull. But Bhajua was determined this time and he rushed to meet Nara Mittir. There was a collision and both crashed to the ground .... unconscious. The two were removed and play resumed after a brief halt. With Nara Mittir out of action, it was evident that the Vagabonds had lost their steam. It offered me some relaxation too as the ball stayed away from my tired legs. Just few minutes of play were left and if I could manage to ward off the attacks, I could return back to Potoldanga as a hero.
I saw a rival player making a last ditch effort. I ran forward to meet him, but slipped over the cow dung - the same dung that had thwarted Nara Mittir's goal attempt earlier. Meanwhile, the rival player took a shot but the ball grazed past the goal-post and went out of play.
I picked myself up but the fall had caused me to lose all sense of direction and I found the world spinning. The only thing that I desired now was to get out of the field and go home. The referee looked at his watch. Just half a minute's play was left. "Take the goal-kick," I heard Gobra telling me.
I kicked with all my strength, and there was an uproar, "Go ...al, go .. al". For a moment I could not comprehend what had happened. Had I kicked the ball so hard that it had flown from our goal-line right into the rival's goal?
The truth, however, dawned soon. I found Gobra looking at me with his mouth wide open. I had kicked the ball into our own goal!
Then? Well, after that I remember having fled for my life and am now hiding behind these bushes. I can still hear the Vagabond supporters chanting in unison, "Three cheers for Palaram ... hip hip hurray."