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.