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Majid Beshkar: Out of sight, but never out of mind

Spectacular exhibition of fan frenzy

By Sudipto Gupta in Calcutta

  • Published 13.08.19, 4:05 AM
  • Updated 13.08.19, 4:05 AM
Majid Beshkar interacts with fans at the East Bengal ground on Monday.
Majid Beshkar interacts with fans at the East Bengal ground on Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

For a brief while on a rain-drenched Monday evening, a forlorn corner of the Maidan could easily have been a part of the fictitious town of Macondo, the scene one from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and not necessarily a celebration of one hundred years of East Bengal’s existence, and Majid Beshkar could have been just a fictional character, one that existed only in the realms of our mind.

Such was the intertwining of the ordinary and the extraordinary that the greens of East Bengal seemed to be a playground of magic realism.

Make no mistake, Majid is no Maradona. But the hysteria that the myth of Majid commands transformed the homecoming of a hero long lost but never forgotten, into a spectacular exhibition of fan frenzy. Majid’s last appearance on a football field in the Maidan was more than three decades ago. Among the hundreds who gathered at the club to catch a glimpse of the “Badshah” — that’s what they are calling him — the majority were from the younger side of 30.

They have never seen Majid sketch fantasies on the football field. In fact, some of them hadn’t even seen a picture of the Iranian till a few days back.

What drew them to East Bengal then? Why did they brave the August rain and wait for hours? Were the chants of “Majid… Majid” only a by-product of the hype, with not much meaningful matter at its core?

A shirtless man in his mid-thirties stood out in the crowd. He was parading up and down the club lawns and cursing the club for not having a Marker pen. Why? “I wanted an autograph from Majid on the East Bengal jersey that I was wearing. “I have managed to send the jersey to Majid (who was then having tea inside the club), but now I’m being told that there is no Marker pen and so he is not being able to give the autograph,” he told The Telegraph.

But has he ever seen Majid in action? “No, I have heard of him from my father. Majid is an absolute legend and it was great to see him in person today,” he said.

Asked what his name was, the man somehow muttered “Babai”. He did mention his surname, but it was inaudible, drowned in his dejection.

All this was preceded by Majid’s media conference, which had an attendance of almost a hundred media persons.

Majid himself sounded quite astonished with the reception that he has received. “While flying to Calcutta, I was thinking who would be there at the airport to receive me, to take me to the hotel… Maybe one or two officials, I had thought.

“But when I came out of the airport, late in the night, there were hundreds of fans… There was no way out. We were forced to take a backdoor exit to reach the hotel,” Majid said.

“Everything has changed here, in this city… Even the East Bengal club tent and the gallery has changed. But the red and gold colour has not changed,” Majid added.

The 63-year-old picked the goal he scored for East Bengal in the Rovers Cup final against Mohammedan Sporting in 1980 as his best. Asked about the best defender he played against, Majid took the name of Subrata Bhattacharya. And Lionel Messi, Majid thinks, is better than Cristiano Ronaldo.

Fishing out a few anecdotes from the distant past, he narrated how Mahmud Khabbasi, the third member of the Iranian trio who ruled the Maidan in the early 1980s, got his jersey number.

“When I came to East Bengal, Jamshid (Nassiri) was wearing No. 9, I got No. 12. Khabbasi was wondering what number he would take… Then we came up with a solution. We added 9 and 12, and Khabbasi got jersey No. 21,” a smiling Majid said.

A candid Majid, who was in Iran's World Cup squad of 1978, also admitted that he never thought that football would take him so far.

“When I came to India, along with Jamshid, we came to study. Yes, football was also a part of our lives, but I never thought I would be involved with the game in such a manner.” And can he recall the names of those he played with or against during his time in India? “Yes, of course. Manoranjan Bhattacharya, Harjinder Singh, Premnath Philips, Sudhir Karmakar, Mohammed Habib,” Majid replied.

Post the media conference, several attempts of taking Majid to the ground for the fans to satisfy their eyes and cellphone cameras failed, with the commotion becoming uncontrollable.

Finally, after the police were called in, Majid did walk out to the ground. In fading daylight, on a muddy ground, Majid, after much persuasion, took a football and kicked it too. The camera flashes lit up the East Bengal sky, fans broke into loud cheers.

It seemed magical. It was real too.

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