A life of green and maroon,
Colours of the happy song,
In the melody of an unbreakable bond,
We are a family,
We are the champions,
We are Mohun Bagan!
It was late in the evening when Keya was sweeping away the rubbish from the courtyard, half drained by the shower of her own sweat and nearly exhausted by the never-ending foams of her daily household work. Summer has been pretty hard this year affecting their lives like Sirocco, the hot wind of Sahara who tried to blow away their very existence, destroying the crops and their lives lived like the broken sand dunes upon the mercy of nature. Spared from the collage of cooling machines, the little village of Udarampur near Kulpi, miles away from the city of Kolkata on the Diamond Harbour line was nurturing its own little life, accepting the smithereens of technology on its course of a lifestyle completely dependent upon nature. It was in this little village where four-wheeled vans with wooden seats were the sole means of transport apart from bicycles. Keya’s love tilled the soil of the familial bond in an ever-flowing river of patience trying to soothe the shards of breaking bonds.
‘Hya go, what will be the colour?’ she remembers asking her husband as both of them watched the heaps of sands and cements being piled upon for the reconstruction of their home, this time with bricks.
‘Green and maroon,’ her husband replied tugging the end of his dhoti around his waist.
Her face beamed with happiness for she understood the colour code. She never understood football but it made her happy when her father shouted ‘G-O-A-L’ and she knew her identity. A hardcore Ghoti, her father would say relishing the prawn curry her mother would make to celebrate the victory of Mohun Bagan. That was a festival they celebrated like Ratha Jatra and Durga Pujo. She remembered the flickering hurricane lights glowing like glow-worms in their neighbourhood where people would gather around a half broken transistor to hear the relay of the game. Mohun Bagan’s victory meant celebration, hosting of the green-maroon flag with the women preparing the Ghoti delicacies dominated by prawn. Lau chingri! Chingrir malaicurry!
‘Pal tola noukar bijoy pujo,’ her mother would say peeling the skin of the bottle gourd. They understood the pal tola nouka pretty well. It was the boat of the green-maroon flag.
‘It’s been a rough year, you know,’ Prabal’s words haunted her as she rested upon her haunches near the pool of sand. ‘Problems, a lot of problems.’
‘Are we not going to win this year?’ Keya was disappointed. It was during such days when the whole family would sit together for dinner, her elder son Subir, his wife Rima, her younger son Sujan and Subir’s sons Babai and Tubai.
‘I don’t know Keya,’ Prabal sighed. ‘We lost the greatest one. There’s another one left.’
‘By the blessings of Ma Manasa, I’m sure we will win,’ she took the hand fan and the breeze of affection blew over Prabal’s sweat-coated face aging faster than his age with the slow collapse of the family, his elder daughter-in-law demanding space, confining herself to a room, allaying her fate with the little vainglory she had while her husband, a vegetable-seller returned late in the night and slipped away into their room. Keya knew that it was during such celebrations, her son would come out, gather at the neighbourhood where all of them had managed to buy a small television set and watch the game.
For the first time in thirty-five years she saw the champions play.
‘Their garments are of green and maroon,’ she had chuckled with delight.
‘Which is why their flag is of green and maroon,’ Prabal had explained.
In the gleaming light of the dying hurricane lantern, Keya found shadows of her reconstructed house of bricks, coloured in green and maroon, the colours sparkling happiness. She forgot her own grief of the sundry tortures incurred upon her delicate soul by her daughter-in-law and her eyes danced with the shadows of a future which was going to efface the indifferences, the hatred and will mend the broken bonds. She had faith on the colour.
Night sneaked into the courtyard touching Keya’s fatigued dusky skin like the hungry scorpion who finally found his prey.
‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,’ Keya shrieked in pain jumping off the ground and then falling upon the steps uttering, ‘scorpion’.
Prabal who was in room telling stories to Babai and Tubai rushed to the courtyard to find Keya, unconscious in pain. Neighbours took to their heels immediately hearing the scream and carried her to the hospital, quite a few miles away.
Ten bottles of saline water!
Jaded, covered by a blanket of pain, Keya woke up and found her husband sitting beside her.
‘Who’s going to cook for you?’ her lips shivered, the pain melting down in anxiety. ‘If only Rima would…’
Prabal knew it would be useless to lie. Rima of course was not bothered. She would never help out in the family and the plastic glow in his face answered her query. He has not eaten anything since the accident. Keya tried to raise her back but her nerves would not obey her.
She fell back, her eyes wailing in pain and indigence.
‘Keya,’ Prabal grasped her hand. ‘Please don’t stress yourself. Trust me, things will change.’
‘Prabal, if Mohun Bagan wins, will you let me cook? We cannot miss the pal tola noukar bijoy pujo.’
‘Calm down. The match is on Saturday and the doctor will release you on Friday. You can’t cook like this.’
‘Then who will?’
Prabal left in a hurry. He has heard of nuclear families in big cities; his friend, a postman has told him how sons live far away from their parents. He has often wondered how would they then celebrate? It seemed as if he was going to solve the equation himself.
Keya was lying on her bed, sipping water from the earthen pitcher. She returned from hospital just the day before and loathed to spend the day of Buddha Purnima, resting the whole day.
‘Don’t worry Keya,’ Prabal appeased her, ‘I will get some prawn curry from Gonai Dada’s house. They are very nice people.’
The shadow of a broken shackle painted her listless face. She didn’t say anything. Prabal left the room, leaving the door ajar letting the green and maroon lights enter the shabby mud hut. Everyone had gathered to witness the final match of Federation Cup 2016.
Keya closed her eyes, counting seconds, storing the little strength she had. She was not going to miss out on the ritual. Victory, celebrations and family! Happiness!
The clamour of ‘G-O-A-L’ perforated the mud-hut and infiltrated the shield of anxiety and grief.
Five goals and a much coveted victory!
After failing to defend the I-League, Mohun Bagan won the Federation Cup.
Keya waited for Prabal. She needed him to help her. The door opened but it was not Prabal.
‘Ma, your son has gone to the bazaar to buy prawns. Tell me how to cook chingrir malaicurry.’
Keya rubbed her eyes and pinched her hand. One! Two! Three! No! She was not dreaming.
‘Ma, if you don’t want to teach me, fine. I will ask some aunt.’
‘Noo!’ Keya panted. ‘Come here. I will tell you.’
Happiness and magic! Keya knew the colours: green-maroon !
Ghoti: Bengali people belonging to the Western bank of River Padma. Mohun Bagan is their football club.
Pal tola noukar bijoy pujo: The festival to commemorate the victory of the boat (the symbol of Mohun Bagan Football Club).
Lau chingri: A dish of prawns and bottle gourd.
Chingrir malaicurry: Prawns made in a coconut-based creamy gravy.
*This short story is the writer's tribute to Mohun Bagan for winning the Federation Cup 2016 after winning the I-league in 2015.*