My teacher – the grassroots soldier

First posted on Facebook, September 11, 2015.

A personal anecdote today, okay? A bit of a teary-eyed personal anecdote.

Debabrata Ghosh was the Arts & Crafts teacher at St. Vincent’s. He also used to stay at our neighborhood in Apcargarden, Asansol. As in most small towns (or as it was in those days), neighborhoods are communities, so my parents knew him well. He was a big, gruff, heavyset man with a bit of a temper. I was terrified of him in the lower classes in school (not least because I had no skill whatsoever at art and crafts). I also hardly played sports those days. I was a docile kid.

One day, my mom came back from office, and asked me, “Why don’t you play football?”
“Uh, football? I cannot run. I am slow, no?” What I did not say was that the fitter, slimmer kids would invariably be better players. Then, the one skill I had, that of merging seamlessly into the background, will be useless. This was the reason I was hardly ever bullied at school.
“Oh that is rubbish”, Ma said. “Listen, Debu Ghosh is running a football coaching class in the neighborhood park. Go and join. I saw him while coming back from office, and he told me that if he, at 100kgs of weight, can play and teach football, surely you can as well. I have enrolled you.”
Oh God! I was terrified. All will be lost now.

And truth to be said, all was lost. Ghosh Sir was an impossibly hard taskmaster. He made us run and run, and shoot and shoot, and trap and trap, and receive and receive, and tackle, and head, and shoulder-charge, and overlap and cross and take free-kicks and do push-ups and sit-ups and do a hundred drills. Endlessly. The other boys were all better than me at football. It was horrible. Horrible.

Then one day, it was not that horrible anymore. I did not become fast overnight (that would come later), but I developed the art of the tackle. I figured out the nuances of trapping and receiving. I developed a reasonably decent shot, I could shoot equally well with both feet, and I could even do it on the run.
Suddenly, one day, I was not the plump boy who was to be picked last anymore. Suddenly, one day, I could give a passable impression of a footballer. Suddenly, one day, I was part of the pack. Suddenly, one day, I had a nickname – I was Chima, named after the fearsome Chima Okorie of East Bengal Club. Suddenly, one day, I was playing for the neighborhood team, for the school team.

Suddenly, one day, I belonged.

In later years, Ghosh Sir from school would become Babu-da of the neighborhood. He was still large, still gruff, he still had a temper. He was also the person who helped make me fall in love with the sport. A few days before I would leave my Asansol for good, I went by to his house and touched his feet.

***

We are old Asansol-ites. We are old Vincentians, Me, then my cousin, and then the other cousin. The middle cousin, Prith, sent me a PM today morning. “Bro, check out my recent fb update. On one of the SVS legends”.
I saw the video that is attached to this post. And choked up a little.

Debabrata Ghosh, our Babu-da, is still changing lives. Like he changed mine, a quarter-of-a-century ago.

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About Shom

Shom Biswas is a writer from India. @Spinstripe
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