Life On Rickshaw, Dreams In a Bidi Store

Sunday, 21 May 2017|Shantanu Guha Ray

The dust has finally settled over the big debate in the social media on whether the Indian U-17 team beat the Italian national selection or a makeshift team comprising players from third and fourth division Italian leagues.

But lost in the rumble of the arguments was the story of a boy, Abhijit Sarkar, who scored one of the two goals to etch the 2-0. Sarkar dreamt of soccer in abject poverty, his father is a rickshaw puller, mother a bidi packer, electricity is a luxury in their home. News of his goal came through a WhatsApp video call Sarkar made from faraway Italy.His only possession: A soccer ball gifted by Brazilian Carlos Alberto during his visit to Kolkata some years ago. Sarkar sleeps with the ball every night. When he left for Italy, he asked his parents to put it in the family trunk. Haren Sarkar, his father, and Aloka, his mother sat huddled among hordes of friends who crowded their dilapidated home, hoping to hear from their prodigal son.

That day, when his son played in Italy, Haren peddled his rickshaw for a daily earning of Rs 150 (a little over $2) and Aloka tied bidis in a dim-lit store for a meagre Rs 25 a day.

Hope rose from the dust of poverty and settled in the boots of Sarkar, who prayed for five minutes before the start of the match. He remembered his promise to the parents: He had told them he would score.

He did.

Sports minister Vijay Goel, Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan tweeted news of the victory, thousands responded, saying they loved Sarkar to the moon and back.

Very few knew in the heat, dust and darkness of a dilapidated home in Bandel, its difficult to dream. A million hopes rise every day, and a million hopes die in the darkness of the night.

Sarkar’s journey is classic.

The All India Football Federation recently gave the fist ticket of the U-17 World Cup - being held in India in some months - to the granddaughter of a Mohun Bagan footballer who won an iconic match in 1911.

They should have looked forward, and called parents of this talented player and handed over tickets to them. That would have been iconic, as important as Sachin Tendulkar promoting his film with PM Narendra Modi.