Monday, June 21, 2010

Bengali's fanatical love for Football

Sonar Bangla to South Africa - by Jaideep Mazumdar

There are football fans. And there are Bengal’s football fans. If you still need to know which of the two stretches the word ‘passion’ into extra time, you need an education... Pradip Dey, Chaitali Chatterjee, Pannalal Chatterjee and Pankaj Ghosh are going to watch World Cup Football 2010 in South Africa.

Hadn’t it been for football, they’d have perhaps never even dreamt of stepping out of India. But such is their craze for the sport, the Fifa World Cup to be specific, that they scrimp and save for four years to fly to distant shores and watch soccer’s mega event. About a hundred soccer enthusiasts from India go to watch the World Cup. The largest group is from Kolkata, and most are of modest means. Some run up huge debts, many take loans, and almost everyone has a ‘World Cup fund’ that they put a portion of their earnings in, because they just live to go to the next World Cup.

Pankaj Ghosh coaches the state junior football team and earns just a few thousand rupees a month. The 58-year-old has gone to the last four Cups and is flying to South Africa later this month. He puts aside more than half his monthly earnings in his ‘Cup fund’. But even that isn’t enough. “I’ve already taken a loan of Rs 73,000 from a bank and have applied for another loan. I can’t live without going to the World Cup,” he says.

Ghosh ascribes it all to his “mental strength and courage”. He went to the Beijing Olympics after taking a loan of Rs 1.8 lakh that he has just finished repaying. His trip to South Africa—he’ll watch seven matches, including the semi-finals and the final—will cost him nearly Rs 3.2 lakh. Apart from his ‘Cup fund’, Ghosh has no savings: “The only future I think of is the next World Cup.”

Pradip Kumar Dey, 47, a petty businessman, makes a few thousand a month from the small businesses he runs with friends and associates. “But I have always saved as much as I can,” he says. “Before the last Cup, a football administrator of Kolkata I knew asked me if I would like to go watch the matches in Germany. He told me it’d cost me about Rs 2 lakh. I rushed home, took out my bank passbook, and saw I could manage it. I had never even dreamt that I would travel by air!” On landing in Germany, though, he discovered he had been cheated by the agency that was to get match tickets. “I returned without watching a single match.” But that acute dismay could not keep him from planning for South Africa this time. He got in touch with Leisure Sports Management, the company that has been taking Kolkatans to international sporting events for decades now. Over the past four years, he has saved Rs 100 everyday for the Cup. He’s also taken a loan. “I’ll work even harder when I return to pay off this loan and start saving for the 2014 World Cup.”

Of all the World Cup travellers in Kolkata, the most well known perhaps is Pannalal Chatterjee, 77, and his wife Chaitali, 67. The couple has been going to all the World Cups since Spain in 1982. “I played football for many clubs. My wife has also been a football fan since childhood. My soccer guru told me in 1980 that if I really wanted to see good football, I should go to the World Cup. Ever since then, my wife and I have been going to all World Cups,” says Pannalal. “We live on my pension and save the rent we receive from our tenants for the Cup,” says Chaitali.

They save whichever way they can, says Pannalal: “I’m a founder member of the Sikkim Football Association and get air fare to go to Gangtok a few times a year. I go by sleeper class in train and save the money for the Cup.” This time, the couple will watch five matches. Rajat Saha, a decorator, tells Open that being a businessman, he can hardly save. “I do try to save for funding my World Cup journeys, but I use it all up for my business. And every time, there’s a last minute scramble for funds before the World Cup. I’m taking a loan this time too,” says the 43-year-old, who has been going since 1994. Prasenjit Banerjee, a paediatrician, has a separate bank account into which he puts money every week. “I was born into a very poor family and I could never dream that one day, I’d be watching World Cup.”

They cut a lot of corners too. “We always put up at guest houses with kitchen facilities where we cook. We go in a group to save costs,” says Banerjee. Many take dry food like puffed and flattened rice, biscuits, tea bags and other foodstuff. “We usually gorge on breakfast, which is complimentary, and make do with inexpensive snacks or the foodstuff we take from home,” says Kansari Kayal, a small-time businessman who’s looking forward to his fourth World Cup. “I mostly have just a meal a day. I don’t need to eat, football fills my appetite,” says Pankaj Ghosh.

But even all the savings and cutting corners would not have taken these enthusiasts to the World Cups had it not been for the Kolkata-based Leisure Sports Management. This travel house takes groups from all parts of India to international sporting events. “But it’s only in Kolkata that we find such enthusiasts. People who don’t have the means of travelling even outside Bengal approach us. We have to help them in whatever way we can,” says Leisure Sports Management’s executive director Soumen Sinha Roy.

And, of course, the entire Kolkata contingent are die-hard fans of Brazil.


Couple ready to score 9th World Cup goal

,TNN | Mar 12, 2014, 05.30 AM IST

KOLKATA: They haven't missed going to a football World Cup since 1982 and now in their twilight years, they are as keen as ever to make it to Brazil. Even if it means going without fish for months - or maybe even going to bed on a half-empty stomach.

Meet Pannalal (81) and Chaitali Chatterjee (70) of Kidderpore. They have already been to eight World Cups and are preparing for their ninth date with it in Brazil this June.

Achieving their World Cup dreams does not come easy for the Chatterjees. With their middle-class means, the couple has to save hard for their tour in the four years between two World Cups. As a retired clerk of Kolkata Port Trust, Pannalal gets a monthly pension of Rs 7,500 (1 Dollar is  Rs 60 on 1.5.14. approx). Wife Chaitali is a homemaker. The couple has no children.

"Come what may, we have to be there even if it means having to go without fish for months and spending the least on our food. We have to save for each World Cup," smiled Chaitali.

The couple's tryst with World Cup began in 1982 in Spain. Having played at the club level, passion for the game came naturally to Pannalal. Chaitali, too, grew up in a family of Mohun Bagan supporters. So when the two married, football was a binding force.

Despite having osteoarthritis, Chaitali manages the house mostly on her own to save the money that'd be spent on domestic helps. She also sells saris in her spare time. Pannalal, who also renders voluntary service to Sikkim Football Association, also saves on his own.

"I am often engaged to organize football tournaments in Sikkim. Though I am allotted airfare to travel between Kolkata and Bagdogra, I travel by train in sleeper class to save the rest," said Pannalal, who is also member of the All India Football Federation's technical committee.

Impressed by the couple's passion for football, organizations like Club Seven help them with subsidized air tickets to be paid in instalments. Leather Sports Management has sponsored their match ticket for the quarter finals. After appealing to FIFA, the organization also agreed to allot them free accommodation in Brazil. The trip would cost about Rs 5 lakh for the couple and they are hopeful of being able to raise the amount before leaving for the tour.

"On our previous tours, we'd share a plate of food to cut down on expenses. This time, if we cannot arrange enough funds, we will carry muri, chire and other foodstuff. But come what may, we have to be there at the Mecca of football. Who knows if we'll even live till the next World Cup," said Chaitali.

Whenever the couple feels helpless about funds, they talk to each other about witnessing the 'hand of God' goal by Maradona in 1986 and meeting Pele after the match. Or, they run their eyes over treasures like pictures clicked with Pele and Maradona.

So, who supports which team? "Like any other couple, we also have our share of arguments. But when it comes to football, our opinions always match. This time, both of us will be cheering for Brazil," said Pannalal.

PS: I am taking this couple to Brazil in 2014 !


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Shale gas transforms geopolitics, energy

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar
The Indian government remains asleep to the revolutionary potential of shale gas, which promises to revolutionise both the world energy scene and global geopolitics. Russia, Iran and Opec are going to be greatly weakened, while the US, Europe and China will be greatly strengthened. India can be a major beneficiary. First, shale is a common sedimentary rock found in most countries, so shale gas can hugely reduce the dependence of most countries (including India) on imported energy. Second, the geopolitical clout of major gas exporters — Russia , Iran, Algeria, Bolivia — will fall dramatically . Third, some countries may start converting their transport fleets into gas-based ones, hitting the demand for and prices of petrol and diesel. Fourth, converting gas into oil will become economic. Shale has long been known to contain natural gas, but this was not worth extracting with conventional technology. Now a new technology, ‘fracking' , plus horizontal drilling, have greatly increased shale gas productivity, so extraction is now viable at $3-4 /mmbtu. The new technology has been pioneered in the US so successfully that the US has overtaken Russia as the world's biggest gas producer. US gas reserves have increased from 30 years consumption to 100 years consumption. Port terminals to import LNG (liquefied natural gas) into the US will instead export LNG to Japan. The US dream of energy independence remains fanciful, but its dependence can indeed fall dramatically. Historically , the price of gas was linked to that of oil: gas cost one-sixth to oneseventh the price of oil. That equation has been smashed in the US, where oil costs $72/barrel but gas costs one-eighteenth as much ($4/mmbtu). Poland and Ukraine, totally dependent on Russian gas, are rushing to find shale gas and free themselves from Moscow. Georgia, another Russian dependent , also seeks energy freedom. Russia has an iron grip on its ‘near abroad' , countries that used to be part of the USSR. But that grip will loosen dramatically if shale gas is found in large quantities in Eastern Europe. Many Western European countries are rushing to acquire shale gas technology . Exxon Mobil is the front-runner in European exploration, but Shell is following suit. This dismays Algeria, a major supplier to Western Europe, which wants to create a gas cartel like Opec. The chances of this are zero. Indeed , LNG facilities created in the Persian Gulf to supply the US are becoming redundant, so supplies will have to be dumped on Europe and Asia. India must take advantage of this. Gazprom, the Russian gas monopolist , admits that it has been forced to delink 15% of its supplies from the price of oil, and instead accept links
to spot gas prices at trading hubs like Louisiana's Henry Hub, which sets the US benchmark price. Holland has a gas hub at Zeebrugge and Britain at National Balancing Point, and a new hub is coming up in Germany. At these hubs the spot price is determined by the interaction of multiple buyers and sellers, replacing the old prices linked to oil. The Financial Timesreports that half the gas contracts in Western Europe are now linked to spot prices. Petrochina estimates that China may have 45,000 billion cubic metres of shale gas, more than Russia's proven conventional gas reserves. China used to be an oil exporter but in recent decades has become a major importer of oil and LNG. Chinese demand helped push oil to $150/barrel in 2008. In the next 10 years, shale gas may significantly reduce China's import demand. World oil prices may keep rising for another five years, but could plateau or fall after that. China is also exploiting its coal-bed methane reserves of 170 billion cubic metres. Gas can readily substitute fuel oil in industry and power generation, and kerosene in cooking. But the bulk of oil consumption is in transport. Compressed natural gas (CNG) is powering buses and three-wheelers in Delhi and other cities. However, setting up CNG facilities across countries and converting vehicles to run on CNG remains a major challenge. It may never happen in the US. Authoritarian China, however , will surely push through such a change. This may be phased over a decade or more, but the price impact will start showing up earlier. India has large shale deposits, with good prospects in the Gangetic plain, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat. Tamil Nadu , Andhra and the north-east . India must get cracking on seismic surveys followed by allotment of exploratory blocks. Companies should be able to acquire blocks any time based on a predetermined revenue-sharing formula. Mukesh Ambani will probably be the first to start exploration, but others will follow quickly, including Anil Ambani (who is already in unconventional gas through coal-bed methane). Large shale gas discoveries should embolden India to convert transport fleets in all cities from petrol and diesel to CNG. That will reduce not only energy dependence but pollution too. Reliance has considered converting some KG gas into oil. Now that gas has become cheap relative to oil, it should go ahead. Other refiners — Essar, IOC, BPCL and HPCL — should consider this option too. For decades India has kowtowed to Gulf countries, notably Iran. It can now afford to act much tougher. Iran supported Pakistan in Indo-Pak wars, and blasted India for Pokharan-II , and demanded that India sign the NPT. Iran nationalised the Rostam and Raksh oilfields in which the ONGC had a stake. It reneged on a contract to supply cheap LNG top India after Ahmedinejad came to power. Despite this India has been deferential to this potentially powerful energy supplier. That must now change. India must tell all Gulf producers that it will pay gas prices linked not to oil but to the Henry Hub price. The best starting point is not Iran but Qatar, which has just completed a gigantic expansion to become the world's largest LNG supplier. This is now in surplus. Qatar wants $10/ mmbtu. India must offer just $4. Once Qatar gives way, so will other LNG exporters, including Australia.

Chronological order