Tracing My Father’s Voice In The Calcutta Derby Of 1997


In July of 1997 when I was 8 years old, East Bengal football club lost the Federation Cup but won a million hearts in the semi-final. My father, who was a member of the club, used to often be in attendance at the stadium. I used to attend a few of them, sometimes with him, other times with my elderly cousin who would sneakily take me to the games (which once resulted in getting caught up in a riot)

But on July 13, 1997, neither of them would take me to the semi-final match. It was the Calcutta Derby, East Bengal faced Mohun Bagan. Everyone knew a clash was imminent, hooligan supporters screaming abusive would pounce on each other at the drop of a hat. The match eventually went down in history as one of the most attended sporting events in Asia. All eyes were on Baichung Bhutia of East Bengal, and his Nigerian counterpart, Chima Okerie. I remember watching Bhutia score a hat-trick on the television that day. He ran towards the broadcasting camera and screamed at it in rejoice. I will never forget that.

My father wore his green polo shirt, which he believed to be a lucky charm for all East Bengal matches. Moreover, the match was on the 13th day of July, and that surely was a great sign. All his life he felt as if the number 13 was a great blessing. Yes, it did happen. East Bengal won 4-1 against their Calcutta rivals, and Baichung Bhutia officially announced his presence in Indian football, or rather Indian sports in general.

The moment when Baichung Bhuta heads the ball during a corner, his first goal of the day

Now 23 years later I found a video clip of that great sporting event on YouTube. It is a historic record of Baichung Bhutia’s hat-trick, as the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta erupted in a roar. In that roar lies the voice of my father.  Listening to that video clip takes me back to 1997, and it astonishes me to think that there within that roar lies the voice of my father. My father who was wearing his green polo shirt, who was probably screaming with joy, who never missed a single East Bengal match. He was alive in 1997, he is yet alive in the video clip.

I have since downloaded the video, and have saved it as a piece of personal history. If I ever have children, they can try and trace their grandfather’s voice in the crowd. There in that great uproar of voices is a voice they will never know.

I don’t remember what happened later that evening after he returned home from the stadium. I only remember Baichung Bhutia’s celebrations after the hat-trick. I only remember a green polo shirt, a mother who is not a reflection of a mother I now know. I only remember my cousin’s joy when discussing the game with my father later. He too left us in a violent car crash some years after. I don’t quite remember if he was in attendance at the stadium, and if he was then he too lives on in its sound.

So many of the 1,31,000 people who were present in the stadium live on through the video clip. Their voices declaring their love for the game, reaffirming their presence in the world. All through the stadium stands, one could see papers burnings, a symbolic gesture representing the burning torch that is the logo of the East Bengal club.

On July 13, 1997, I never knew that I would be sitting far away from Calcutta 23 years later, thinking about my father, and trying to find his voice amidst the crowd of more than a lac. I wouldn’t have known that a video clip of the game would be of such significance to me. This is the only sound (if you can say so) that I have of him, now that he is no more. I have to make do with memory, which in some years could be failing. To be honest, it is a foolish thing to try and trace his voice in the crowd, but when you don’t have much, you make do with whatever little you can. I am always trying.



This piece is penned by Arka Roy for the blog- Boy in the Cinema. You can find the original article here.