Prince of Kolkata

20th June, 1996 – This was a day when all Bengalis
in Kolkata & West Bengal tuned into their television
sets in the evening, because far away on English
shores, a young Bengali lad was starting his journey
in Test cricket for India. 15 years on, that young lad
is now India’s most successful Test captain ever and is widely regarded as the one who built the
foundation for the present Indian team which is
now No. 1 in the world.

Apart from his numerous records & achievements in
his career, the one thing that is associated with the
name of Sourav Chandidas Ganguly (or Dada, as he is affectionately called), is the HUGE support and passion that he generates among Indians – be it in
the eastern part of the country, other states or even
outside the country! But the frenzy that he
generates among the Bengalis is something that is
to be astonished about. He is a true Bengali icon whom everybody love and revere. Yet, this passion
and fan-following have often been accused of
being parochial, blind and been laughed at. Yes,
this support is parochial to some extent, there’s no
use denying it. But it is nothing to be apologetic
about. Has anybody given a thought to the reasons behind this passionate support and whether this is
actually unjustified?
Before Dada, can you remember who was the last
Bengali to make a real mark in Indian cricket?
Chances are that you won’t. Although Bengalis have
long been known as cricket enthusiasts, although the Eden Gardens crowd has always been regarded
as the most knowledgeable crowd in India, the fact
is that Bengalis have hardly found a chance to
showcase their talents in the Indian team. Or as
some people also say, they have been denied. From
Shute Banerjee in the 1930s, Ambar Roy in the 60s to Sambaran Banerjee in the 80s – there’s a long
list of players who were considered hugely talented,
but never found a proper scope to display those
talents. In fact, Sambaran Banerjee was considered
by many to be much better than the long-time
Indian wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani, but due to some inexplicable reasons, he never got a chance to play
test cricket (Ironically, it was during the tenure of
Sambaran as a national selector, that Dada was
selected in the 1996 England-bound Test team!).
The only exception to this is Pankaj Roy, but he
played test cricket way back in the 1950s. In this background of ‘conspiracy’ and long deprivation,
when a young Bengali boy appeared in the scene
and went on to etch his name in India’s cricketing
history, the pent-up frustrations and emotions in all
Bengalis burst out in jubilation. Finally, here was
one whom they could call their own, with whom they could identify with, one who could ignite their
passions. Here was the one for whom Bengal had
been looking for decades. He gave them someone
to specifically root for. Post-Independence, there had been a lack of a
proper heroic character among the Bengalis. Yes,
there had been economists, intellectuals,
politicians, but none of them had the charisma or
the personality to ignite the mind and soul of all
concerned. Dada’s achievements, aggression and leadership qualities made him a heroic personality
in the eyes of the people.
Bengalis have always been viewed as educated,
meek, intellectual, decent and cultured souls. They
are not supposed to make Steve Waugh wait for the
toss and irritate him, sledge the opposition, take off their shirt in the Lord’s balcony and mouth four-
letter words. He is not the one to score a majestic
century at the Gabba, jump in elation holding his
fist aloft and without uttering a single word, telling
every Australian how he enjoyed their ‘chin music’!
Here was an unabashed display of aggression and emotions which changed the way Indians play
cricket. And the Bengali fans loved it. Dada gave
them a portrayal of all those things that they had
never done, things they had always wished to do.
They loved every moment of Dada’s fiery display,
cheered every time when Dada celebrated his wickets and catches with gusto. And that cheer
reached its crescendo when after 11 years of
international cricket, in Dec 2007, he scored his first
hundred before his adoring home crowd at Eden
Gardens. Here was the guy who started his journey
with a century at Lord’s, but didn’t leave before gifting his passionate fans a century at the fag end
of his career – a fine piece of cricketing
Everybody clearly remembers November 2005,
when Dada had been dropped from the Indian
team during the Greg Chappell controversy and India was playing an ODI against South Africa. The
1 lakh-strong Eden Gardens crowd got right behind
Graeme Smith and his boys and the Indian team
was constantly booed in their own backyard. Some
may call it as an extreme reaction, but from the
fans’ perspective, they felt betrayed by the Indian team and management. Whenever people in
Kolkata have protested against some wrong
treatment against Dada and burnt effigies, many
people have even ridiculed them to be staged and
artificial. But for Dada’s fanatical supporters, it is an
external manifestation of the love and anger that they possess for Dada.
For Dada, Kolkata feels an unconditional love, the
kind that asks for nothing in return and yet blindly
accepts whatever it gets. He is their elder brother,
their own son, a Bengali who is a pan-Indian hero.
For Kolkata and its people, cricket means Dada – the Prince of Kolkata
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