Tulsidas Balaram: the stranger inside-left
NEW DELHI: Once upon a time in Indian football, three were many but never a crowd. Today, it is a one-man club, with the lone member silently enraged against the death of light.
Chuni Goswami Following PK Banerjee towards the maidan in the skies 40 days apart last month, evoking spontaneous pain and a wave of nostalgia not seen often in Indian sport. What he also did was focus on the third player in Indian football's perennial gold trio.
Chuni was the bona fide superstar, aristocratic and elegant, and most became a Mohun Bagan icon. As a nimble and lightweight soccer player, he faced his rivals almost as if he were not there. PK was the tour de force on the right wing that made its way through the sheer force of personality. He was also capable of amazing reinvention. Cunning enough to stay true to the unglamorous Eastern Railways, he used that same sense of self-preservation to forge a historic career as a coach. In all of this, there is Tulsidas Balaram , with his blind and immortal faith in teamwork, instruction, loyalty and in Rahim Saab, the best soccer coach in India.
Today, having long embraced everyday routine, Balaram meets with sudden concern everywhere.
Young man, one or two phone calls will not do justice when talking about that moment. The half warning sets the tone for the new visit. You want to tell me a story, he asks, slightly puzzled. Perhaps the death of an old friend, teammate, club rival and also contender, for the same spot on the Indian team, may provide a new context.
A sardonic laugh is permitted. 'Arrey, Balaram', they say in my neighborhood, 'The virus is there, why go out? We want to see you for five, 10 more years. Stay inside. We will help you, we love you. '
Balaram was the most discreet and distant of the three, and the rest licked all the flattery. It could be said that he was the stranger, the foot soldier, despite the general influence of the other two on the sociocultural spirit of Calcutta continued to grow. This does not mean that he was not his own man. He would carve his own space and earn the respect of a lifetime as Eastern bengal idol Fierce, larger than life on the field, Balaram's battles with the other hero of the time, the equally-fiery Jarnail Singh of Mohun Bagan, is stuff of legend.
The 1961 season with Eastern bengal was a watershed one, and the faithful still see him as their saviour, running errands for him to this day. "In my Uttarpara neighbourhood, they don't even weigh the vegetables when I put them in the basket. They simply put them in my bag. 'Balaram sir, please take and go,' they say, not even counting the money I give them," he says.
After not having been selected in India's opening game against Australia's hosts in 1956, Balaram has often said, that Rahim never dropped him until his early international retirement due to pleurisy in 1963. He would reach the record for have played the most Olympic Games matches of an Indian footballer, including five at the trot.
He would play the semifinals and the bronze medal draw at the Melbourne Games, and three consecutive games in Rome four years later. He would have good goals against Hungary and Peru in Rome, as well as a handful at the Asian Games, and those in Jakarta in 1962 helped India reach its football peak: the gold medal.
There is no great need to take out a boat and bring the big fish home, however all that Balaram has to show for all his achievements is an Arjuna Prize in 1962 and then being cruelly diverted by the Padmashri in 1990. I was told : The Balaram file was dropped at the last minute. After all these years, I still don't know why. Everyone deserved it, so why not me? he asks. I don't want it now. People's love and affection is more than a Padmashri to me.
Balaram was perhaps India's first modern footballer, a 1960s prototype of today's European mold. A true team man, he could play in any position, backing up to win the ball and pass it on to both men in advance. Ironically, even today he remains the ideal man for those looking for a keepsake of his deceased teammates.
PK always wanted the ball in advance, he liked to have room to face the defender, he recalls. Chuni wanted him on his feet, particularly to the right. If he gave it to his left, he would be in slight difficulty, he would waste time trying to adapt. The ball to the right was magical. We had an excellent understanding. You wake us up in the middle of the night and we would be ready to play after just waking up, soccer is a very simple game, yaar.
Rahim-saab used to say, 'Kya hai, miyaan football? Gola do, gola do. Bas (what is it, football? Take the sphere, pass the sphere. That's all). Balaram's versatility was perhaps the reason why Rahim made him leave his favorite place for Chuni. Pulling him to the left gave the coach more options. Back home, there used to be 40,000 people just for the Nationals. At Rovers Cup in Bombay, stars like Shammi Kapoor It would come directly from the shooting, the makeup was still on, because Chuni and Balaram would be playing, he remembers.
No one in Kolkata, his home since 1957, denies his stature. However, today, little of that exists. Like Padmashri, not having received even a pass to the FIFA U-17 World Cup three years ago was an unforgivable rebuff in Balaram's eyes. He was symptomatic of the 83-year-old's own existence, always admired, but never fully appreciated. I don't know if I'm great or not. I have a simple definition, I used to kick the ball better than other players. Maybe that was what I had success on the field. About greatness, don't ask me ...