It was during the Mexico World Cup in 1986 that Pannalal Chatterjee and his wife, Chaitali, met with a “nightmare”. They were returning from a market along with several other people in Mexico City when some armed men invaded their bus and robbed them.
“We were spared because we had very little money, but the experience was a nightmare,” recounts Chaitali. “But a few days later, when Diego Maradona lifted the World Cup, it was a dream come true.”
That dream came to an end on Tuesday when Pannalal, 86, breathed his last. He had been hospitalised last week owing to fever and other age-related complications.
Pannalal and Chaitali were the quintessential troubadours of football. With India’s participation in a Fifa World Cup still a dream, the couple from Kidderpore was the country’s undeniable — and most consistent — link to football’s biggest stage, 10 times in a row. In an uninterrupted journey, from the 1982 World Cup in Spain to Russia in 2018, they witnessed, first-hand, football’s greatest show on earth.
“We have so many memories. We got to meet Pele, Maradona and many more. These were the journeys made exclusively for the two of us. With him gone, the dream run is over,” Chaitali said. She talked about an unforgettable experience in Brazil, during the 2014 World Cup. A group of Bengalis settled there found out that it was their wedding anniversary on June 29 and threw them a surprise party. Again, when India hosted the under-17 World Cup in 2017, Fifa felicitated the couple by giving them free tickets to all Kolkata matches.
“We were thinking about going to Qatar in 2022 as well to make it 11 in a row. That won’t be possible now,” Chaitali told TOI.
Pannalal retired from his Kolkata Port Trust job in 1984 and survived on a small pension. So, how did the duo manage to make their pilgrimage to the World Cups?
“We created a special fund and started putting money in it the day after returning from a World Cup,” Chaitali said. “In the months we had to spend on a family programme or something else, we stopped eating fish and meat so that our daily deposit remained uninterrupted. Well-wishers also chipped in sometimes.”
One such well-wisher is Kolkata Maidan football legend Shyam Thapa. He visited Chaitali on Wednesday to express his condolences. “Football is such a beautiful game because of fans like them,” Thapa said.
With pictures of Pele, Maradona and a host of memories in the room highlighting a unique journey, Chaitali was sad to lose her partner but happy to have embarked on such a journey with him.
“We don’t have kids. But football remains our child,” she signed off.
Source: Times of India