Friday, July 11, 2014

The Telegraph Article: Football backpacker bound for Brazil- Calcuttan saves up for more than a decade for dream trip to World Cup - SUDESHNA BANERJEE

My interview in The telegraph on 6.6.14.

Pobre Indiano. Nao me roube (Poor Indian. Don’t rob me)
Sourabh Datta Gupta’s survival kit for Brazil includes these words in Portuguese that he has got custom-printed on a T-shirt bought at Maidan Market.
“People have been warning me about theft in Brazil. I thought it prudent to appeal to the better nature of potential strikers,” said Sourabh, an employee of a state government undertaking who has been saving for more than a decade to fulfil his dream of watching the Fifa World Cup.
The 43-year-old’s dream trip starts on Friday night with a train journey to Mumbai, from where he is scheduled to catch a flight to Brazil.
Sourabh’s closest encounter with Brazilian football before this was in 2002, when he was based in Delhi.
He had read about Ronald Machado, the husband of the then Brazilian ambassador, playing with Garrincha and written to the embassy about his passion for the game and admiration for the World Cup-winning captain.
“The World Cup was on at the time and I got an invitation to watch the matches at the embassy with the other Latin American ambassadors and also attend their World Cup party,” he recalled, narrating stories about Garrincha at Botafogo club that he had heard from Ronald.
The Delhi experience made Sourabh, who calls himself a “worshipper” of jogo bonito(the beautiful game) and maintains a large collection of football videos, contemplate the possibility of watching a World Cup in a host country someday.
“I couldn’t go in 2006 as I hadn’t saved enough and missed the one in 2010 because the recession had dragged down the value of my stocks. With this edition of the tournament happening in Brazil itself, I just had to go, even if it meant selling off an apartment that I had invested in,” he said.
But Brazil, he soon realised, was a very expensive country to be visiting. He had saved around Rs 3 lakh for the trip while travel agencies were said to be charging Rs 6-9 lakh for two-week package tours. His plan to stay there close to a month made Mission Brazil look even more intimidating.
When he last checked, dormitory bunk beds were going for Rs 8,500 a night ahead of the “good matches”. Fortunately for Sourabh, he had a friend’s uncle to fall back on. Babu S.P. Narahari, a bachelor from south India, has been based in Santos since 1969 and will play host to Sourabh when he isn’t travelling across south and central Brazil. “I take Babu Mama around whenever he comes to Calcutta, so he was there for me. But I needed accommodation elsewhere too,” he said.
Out of desperation, Sourabh posted an appeal on the online forum of a global cultural exchange group. As a member of the group, he had previously hosted foreigners visiting Calcutta and thought that someone would do him a similar turn in Brazil.
Strong online recommendations from each of his guests in Calcutta, including by a Brazilian boy named Hugo Sampio whom he had taken to Mohun Bagan Football Club, clinched the deal for Sourabh. It was only after acceptances started coming in, leaving him spoilt for choice in some cities, that Sourabh started his preparations for Brazil.
His first attempt at buying match tickets was during a Fifa online lottery in end-January. It landed him a ticket to a Portugal-Ghana match. In March, another round of bookings opened on the Fifa site. “But our server was down for an hour and a half and by the time I could log in, tickets to the best matches were gone,” Sourabh recounted.
He had to be content with tickets to three second-rung matches. Another Calcuttan whom his “Babu Mama” has agreed to host on his recommendation repaid the favour by helping him get a ticket for a match featuring Brazil.
Sourabh will put on his yellow jersey and cheer his favourite team as the Samba boys takes on Cameroon in Brasilia on June 23. Before that, he has dates with Belgium and Algeria on June 17 and Columbia and Ivory Coast on June 19. He will watch a match each featuring Portugal and England as well.
Until the start of the week, Sourabh had been spending nights trying to book long-distance bus tickets online. Portuguese posed the biggest problem before his newfound Brazilian friends pitched in. “I sent them an SOS on WhatsApp,” he said of Douglas Moreira and Hugo, who taught him that todos meant all stations and comprerwas the command to buy a ticket.
But when CSP turned out to be social security number, and CIP the zip code, he was again all at sea. “Rodolpho Cammarosano de Lima, one of my hosts in Brasilia, offered his own address and other details and it was 4am when I went to sleep after buying the first of the bus tickets,” Sourabh said.
Till a couple of days back, he did not have a host in Rio de Janeiro. “I had written to a girl seeking accommodation in the famous hillside favelas. They are much better than our slums. The rent would be cheaper and I would get to stay where Garrincha did!” he said.

On Thursday, he got an invitation from Suhaila Terra Brito, a doctor’s wife.

In Rio, he does not have a match ticket yet but has booked his place in a football match organised by locals for fans from across the world. “I would have to pay a fraction of the venue rent. I have told them that even if I get to tap the ball once, I am in.”

Please read this amazing article

My second interview in The telegraph on 13.7.14.

In the land of Jogo Bonito

A Maradona lookalike dons the Albiceleste warpaint in Copacabana
We were cruising at 35,000ft. A group of Ivory Coast supporters had boarded our Ethiopian Airlines flight and in the dead of night, dressed in colourful gear they sprung to life, parading down the aisle, singing and playing trumpets and maracas. We were headed for the greatest carnival on earth and the party had already begun.
Sao Paulo
A fan tries his ‘hand’ at getting a ticket
Hugo, a Brazilian student who had stayed in our Rashbehari Avenue home during a trip to India, was there to receive me at the airport. He drove me to his father’s house. Other than a swimming pool, the housing complex had a futsal ground. This five-a-side variant of football is tremendously popular in Brazil. I had seen on YouTube how skilled these players are in dribbling and juggling. Hugo gave me a quick introduction to Brazilian lifestyle. One point that stood out: the necessity of a bath! “We Brazilians hug a lot, so we bathe two-three times a day,” he said.
The next day he took me to Fifa Fan Fest, where a giant screen had been put up. But the crowd and the lack of seats made us beat a retreat at half time. His friends joined us, as did his girlfriend. Soon I gathered it was their Valentine’s Day. After stopping at a salgado(snacks) counter, I bid them adios (goodbye) and left for the home of a friend’s uncle.
I was wearing a T-shirt made to order at Maidan market that had the words “Pobre Indiano. No me Roube” (Poor Indian. Do not rob me) printed on it. As I was walking to the bus stop, a group of youths spotted it and burst out laughing. This T-shirt worked as a conversation-starter throughout my trip and opened my eyes to the high regard Brazilians have for India. One of the youths, William, was a theology teacher and had read The Mahabharata.
Sourabh sports his made-in-Maidan market tee
Santos is a port city in the state of Sao Paulo. While Pele remains its biggest mascot, having played for the local club all his life — he is on billboards endorsing products — Robinho has been the recent star. While playing football with the local boys on the beach, I learnt that Brazil’s current mascot Neymar Jr too has played here for long. It was touching to see how deeply they love him.
The next day, I set off for the Fifa office in Sao Paulo by bus to collect the match tickets I had booked on the Fifa site. Taxi in Brazil is prohibitively costly. So is telephone, especially pre-paid ones. They all use WhatsApp. Hugo taught me that when I called him that day. The two-line conversation cost me R$2.50 (Rs 72)!
Neymar rules the shelves too
I was lucky to be in Santos when the Pele Museum opened. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was to inaugurate it, along with Pele. Given the political atmosphere, that drew a horde of protesters to the venue and I couldn’t get in till all the guests had left. So I had to be content seeing his boot and jersey instead of the legend himself.
Beautiful horizon
That’s what Belo Horizonte, my next destination, means. By now, I had figured out that whatever the distance, city buses and Metros had flat rates, around R$3. For the 65-plus, it’s free. But long-distance buses are costly, nearing flight rates on some routes.
Rocinha, Rio’s biggest favela, decked in national colours
My host Leandro’s parents were so thrilled to have me over that the next day they took me to the market, introducing me to all passers-by as “Indiano”.
Real estate is so costly that unlike elsewhere in the West, children stay on with their parents for long. Leo’s father was a volunteer at the Confederations Cup and gifted me that T-shirt. “Don’t wear it now. Tourists will take you to be a volunteer.” With my little Spanish and no Portuguese, that would indeed be a calamity!
It was in the city of the architect Oscar Niemeyer, famous for its food and hospitality, that I was to watch my first match: Belgium vs Algeria. But I was so overwhelmed with the colourful crowd that I could barely focus on the match. It hardly helped that people in front kept walking in and out, for an unending supply of beer.
Over to Brasilia
Though I missed the bus to Brasilia that night, the conductors at the depot made sure I reached at the same time by a different route at no extra cost, without understanding any English. An eagerness to help seems to run in their blood.
Here I stayed with Douglas, who works in a government hospital. Healthcare is free in Brazil, including medicines. The roads were velvety. There were no powercuts. “So what the heck are you all protesting against?” I asked, bewildered. “Corruption,” he replied.
Douglas plays the violin at the local church and took me to a church-organised fair where I had churrasco, their famous grilled meat. We also went for the Colombia-Ivory Coast match.
At my next stop, I reached the day my host Rodolpho’s girlfriend was leaving town. I felt uneasy about being a “kebab mein haddi” but soon realised that they have no qualms about public display of affection.
Messi is always larger than life
The next day, we went for the Brazil-Cameroon match and Rodolpho chose his jersey from an array in his wardrobe. On match day, everyone, with or without a ticket, is in a Selecao shirt. So I sat in a sea of yellow at the Arena Mane Garrincha. I got my face painted at no cost, again courtesy my “Indiano” tee. Neymar looked so frail up close that I wondered how he survived the giant defenders. He wouldn’t for long, as it later turned out.
I had a ticket to the England-Costa Rica match the next day in Belo Horizonte. England was already out of the tournament but that hardly stopped the supporters from singing along. The full team was not fielded initially. I had to wait for a long time to see Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard in action.
After the match, I visited a picture postcard town called Ouro Preto, a world heritage site that was home to Brazil’s 18th century gold rush. In the bus on the way back, I met an Indonesian boy who showed me his pictures with Beckham, Messi and other gods. I lost no time in sending him a Facebook invite.
At night, when I reached Rodolpho’s house, there were five others sleeping over. A Brazilian girl got so excited on learning I was from India that she sang me the opening bars of Daler Mehendi’s Tunak tunak tun and danced a Bollywood jig.
For the Portugal-Ghana match the day after, my seat was behind the goal and both goals happened at my end. Here I met a Bangladeshi who was a volunteer. Fifa, I learnt, takes volunteers from across the globe who have to reach and stay at their own cost. This man was lucky that his duty was in the galleries and he could watch the match free.
A ‘referee’ halts the march to Maracana stadium with a red card
Last stop Rio
Dali and Mozart greeted me at my next host Suhaila’s place in Rio de Janeiro. No, not the masters, these were her cats.
The world had descended on Copacabana beach to party. But I stood transfixed watching two girls playing with a football on the water’s edge, oblivious to the revelry— trapping it on the chest and in the same motion passing it to the other without the ball ever touching the ground. Jogo Bonito!
Despite the happy memories of watching matches on the giant screen at the beach, my best experience was seeing a Brazil match live in Rocinha, Rio’s biggest favela (slum). TV sets were put up every 10 metres in serpentine alleys wrapped in flags, big and small. Life had come to a halt. Each pass triggered animated debates, each missed chance fuelled agitated reactions. After the victory, hundreds of chocolate bombs were burst, just like back home.
The day I landed in Calcutta, Brazil crashed out. Watching the debacle on TV, it was the people of the favelas, who seemed to embody the passion we associate Brazil with, that my heart went out to.


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