Sunday 10 June 2012

Short Story 2012 Longlist, Abhishek Mukherjee

A New Life

When Sourav had applied for a job at the popular sports journal Sportjo, he did not anticipate that he would be offered a handsome initial salary of rupees seventeen thousand a month. After all, he had just completed his graduation. His dream of making a breakthrough at one of the best publications catering to sports, which was his arena, had just been realised.

His passion for sports, especially football, was unparalleled. Having realistically aimed to become a professional football player at a time, his enthusiasm for the game ceased to die down even after he had to give up as a player due to circumstances. He felt the game, and now was elated at his opportunity to be alongside the players, the coaches, the stadiums and all of those things related to football that had always captured his imagination all these years.

In the initial days as a reporter, he was nervous and excited at the prospect of challenging tasks and new experiences. As a rookie, the first tournament that he was assigned to cover officially for the journal was the Santosh Trophy to be organised at the magnificent Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. The matches were played over a month. Sourav closely followed all of them, never losing an opportunity to interview and ask pertinent questions from the players, the referees and the coaches. During his interaction with so many people he became very close friends with a player of the team Calcutta Sporting, Neil.

Neil came from Nagaland, where football was the most popular sport. Sourav learns that there is no dearth of talent in that land. Yet Neil is among the very few talents that have made it to the elite club level.

As the tournament progresses, lesser-known teams have caused upsets over the traditionally superior clubs Madan Bagan, Hero United and Neil’s own Calcutta Sporting. Sourav is shocked over the upsets, especially the one in which Calcutta Sporting is trounced 5-0 by minnows Warangal Football Club. Neil is upset, but there are things that he reveals to Sourav that Sourav just cannot digest.
During Sporting’s four-day break before an encounter with rivals Hero United, Neil comes over to Sourav’s hotel room after the morning’s practise. As they discuss the loss to Warangal, Neil at times takes up an uneasy silence. Particularly when Sourav asks him about words of the coach during half-time, Neil seems troubled beyond suspicion. Sourav reiterates that the faith and trust between the two of them in matters relating to game plans and strategies is beyond question. Then what is wrong?
Neil (after a long silence): The coach told us to lose the match.

Sourav: What?! Match fixing! So it’s true….those rumours I’ve been hearing about why players are not performing….
Neil: It’s a long story….
Neil: Football teams do not import just talents. Why do you think youngsters in places like Nagaland and Manipur do not represent big clubs beyond the under-15 and the under-19 level? They do not have the means to satisfy the members of the respective Football governing bodies…
Neil: There is so much of corruption out there…
Sourav: but why did your coach tell you guys to lose the match? And all of you actually followed him!
Neil: ….our coach had some scores to settle with the selection panel of Calcutta Sporting, since one of his nephews had been left out of the team.
He offered us all fifty thousand rupees each - almost double the amount of match fees that we would get…

Sourav: Oh! (A long silence)
Sourav: So you accepted his bait…?
Neil: I had no choice….else he would threaten me….and in due time ensure my removal from the team.
Sourav: and what about his own place? He would almost surely be removed as the coach after such poor performance.
Neil: He is ready for it, .he knows sooner or later he will have to leave….the fans and the panel wants a younger coach for a long time…
Sourav: I see….
Sourav (after a silence): Play to your potential Neil. Gather your team-mates and convince them that they must not worry about the consequences….Do not say a word to the coach. I will take care of the rest….just give it your best shot, all right?
Neil: What! Are you sure? But what are you going to do? Are you thinking of revealing everything in your article….? Please don’t do that…

Sourav: Have confidence in me, as a player, your mind shouldn’t divert, win the cup!
And since the conversation, Calcutta Sporting gradually lifted itself. Though it drew with United after a brilliant display, it won its next five matches to enter the quarter finals in style.
Neil was left wondering why the coach was not threatening them anymore.

Sporting reached the Finals, and defeated defending champions Madan Bagan 2-0 after extra time. Fittingly, the winning goal was scored by Neil – his only goal of the tournament. As Neil lifted the trophy along with his team-mates and let out a cry of joy, Sourav held back a smile and a tear a few steps away standing alongside other cameramen and journalists.

Neil read the following week in Sportstar:
Sporting lifts cup
  Calcutta Sporting lifts itself spectacularly amidst speculations of match fixing 
“Sporting defeated defending champions Bagan in a gripping final on Sunday….
…The outfit’s coach, however, announced that he was stepping down as the coach of the team and was retiring from active football. He suggested the name of the impressive 43-year old former Bagan player Nelson D’souza to take over. He declined to speak to the media over the rumours of match fixing. It is also rumoured that he was angry with the selection panel and that it was Shubham Sinha, apparently brother of Sportjo reporter Sourav Sinha that he wanted to include in the team. Both Sourav and his brother declined to comment on the issue, and Sourav’s own article in Sportjo said thatthe rumours were clearly untrue and that all allegations on the coach were dumbfounded, since the coach himself brought about such a transformation among the players. …”
Over the years, Sourav as a journalist worked hard and strived to ensure through little steps that the game of football remained as pure and joyful as it is meant to be. Together with Neil, they script a largely unnoticed new chapter through numerous unknown positive incidents in the world of football in India, setting a precedent for sports journalism in the country.

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