A Football Match Ticket
(This was written about a year ago)
A newspaper article caught my eye the other day. The Bayern Munich football team was visiting Calcutta to play a match against Mohun Bagan. This reminded me of an incident that happened in 1977. That was the year the unimaginable happened to the football-crazy population of Calcutta. Pele was coming with the Cosmos team to play against Mohun Bagan. And for this city, the undisputed sports capital of India, it was as though one of the Gods themselves had decided to descend from Heaven.
Calcutta was agog with rumours. That planeloads of Arabs were coming to witness the match. That there would be a fantastic demand for tickets. There were heated discussions (as always in Calcutta, there could not be discussions without heat and passion) on whether there were sufficient hotel rooms and whether the poor civic amenities in an over-strained city would bear the additional load.
Under the circumstances I considered myself extremely lucky to be allotted a Rs 30 ticket through my club, the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club, which was affiliated to the Mohun Bagan. There was however one small catch. The Club insisted that all dues be cleared before the ticket was handed over. Many Happy Hours at the Club had made my bar bill reach the sum of Rs 1200. That may not appear particularly princely today, but in those days it represented nearly two months salary. There was no way I could raise this by begging or borrowing, all credit lines being choked. The thought of stealing did not appeal particularly but a small fraud I figured, was acceptable. All I had to do was give the company cashier a dud cheque, take the money, clear my dues, sell the ticket for some fancy amount and make some booze money. All this after depositing the requisite amount in the bank to ensure the cheque did’nt bounce. Thereby killing two birds with one cheque.
When the prized ticket finally came into my hands, there were two days left for the match. That was when the fun started. There was no sign of any Arab. No plane-loads. Not even a camel-load. All my fine friends who were so sure of a windfall, had vanished. Become a mirage you could say.
As the hours went by, my anxiety grew. I rang dozens of people. From society ladies desperate to be seen at the right places to avid sports lovers. Not one taker. And as my anxiety grew, so did the asking price come down. Twenty four hours to the match and I was ready to stand at the crossing of Park Street and Free School Street to try hawking the ticket surreptitiously. I had seen enough movie ticket blackmarketers and thought I could do a reasonable imitation. But my nerve failed as our Head Office was just down the road.
The great day dawned with the ticket lying folded in my wallet. Finally, too dispirited to go to the match myself, I gave it to a friend to hand over free to any needy fan. Three hours later, like a faithful dog, it was back with me. The fact that the match ended in an honourable 2-2 draw and that Pele scored the equalizer through a penalty kick were inconsequential to me.
But for the cost of the exercise, I would have had the ticket framed and hung near my bedside. To serve as a reminder. That whatever else I became in life, I would never be a successful black-marketer. How I finally cleared the dud cheque is another story.