Vol I Angel on the Rocks

It was the night of the English Premier League game between Chelsea and Manchester United. My son, all of eight, and I settled down in the den to watch, he in an already excitable state of nervousness over his favourite club’s – Chelsea, not United – prospects. An hour and half later, United had won the game. Three hours later, he was still sobbing, though the hiccups had subsided. All attempts at consolation and the futility of shedding tears over ‘just a game’ by a heartbroken but football-unaware mother only brought on wailing complaints. ‘She just doesn’t get it.’ The boy woke up several times that night to weep noisily.

As for me, I only marvelled at the depth of this emotion, not unhappy that he could be so woebegone. For did that not mean he was capable of joy in equal measure in different circumstances? Finally, as the sun rose over a city largely indifferent to the passions of the football fan now that the young men and women were through drinking at the pubs where it had lately become fashionable to congregate on English football nights, the boy slept deeply, his tears spent. So did I.

And I dreamt, straightaway, of that day a long long time ago, when I was his age, almost to the day, and another football event had made me so delirious with joy that, instead of sleeping that night, I had run around the living room, bouncing on the sofa and jumping on and off a settee with springs that was the perfect accessory to my expression of happiness. Earlier that afternoon, the Calcutta football club I supported, East Bengal, had handed its archrivals Mohun Bagan a 5-0 drubbing.

After the mandatory celebrations at home around the transistor radio on which we had followed the commentary, the thrilling cadences of ‘Goaaaaaaaaal!’ being heard not once or twice but an unbelievable five – count ‘em! – times, I ran downstairs to the streets where the customary mocking of rival fans had already taken on unheard of proportions.

I was too young to participate in the ribaldry – my vocabulary wasn’t powerful enough – but I could sense history in the making. Already, my heart was hammering with an unbearable frequency of happiness. I was flushed from head to toe, shaking uncontrollably, surrendering myself to physical sensations of pleasure that a pre-adolescent should not have been feeling.

But the best was yet to come – that complete moment of bliss which I can still remember, all these years later, whose memory makes me tremble. It came when the older boys of the neighbourhood – the East Bengal fans, naturally, for the opposite camp had slunk back home with its tails between its legs, refusing dinner that night and weeping in a manner that I would witness decades afterwards – decided to paint victorious graffiti on a conveniently whitewashed wall. Coming at a time when all walls were natural scribbling ground for political parties, this was an unexpected gift and not to be wasted.

Naturally, I trailed the big boys as they set about scrawling the outline of the fiery slogan on the wall before daubing yellow paint – with a red outline for each letter to reproduce the club colours – to form the words: ‘O martyr Mohun Bagan, we shall never forget you.’ Such wit! Like all my friends, I was also convulsed with glee. But how could I be part of this ruthless demolition squad? How was I to earn bragging rights for school the next day? Were we, the small fry but no less passionate, only fated to watch this historic celebration from the sidelines?

So it seemed, till that fateful moment when one of the big boys, trying to balance the bucket of paint in one hand and the brush in the other, found his art unequal to the task. As he looked around for reinforcement, his eyes locked on mine. An imperious nod summoned me to his side, carelessly he handed me the bucket of paint. With that one casual move, I was admitted to the inner circle of joy. I thought I would die.

Bliss is an utterly inadequate five-letter word for what I felt, though heavenly comes close as an adjective. It was so intense that I thought I’d need to borrow my pals’ sense organs to do justice to it. In my head, I jumped up and down a million times a second. With my limbs, though, I held the bucket rock-steady for the brush to be dipped into.

It’s possible that my memory of those moments of bliss has multiplied the sensations. If so, I am grateful to my synapses. I just hope to be around on earth to see the nine-year-old experience a similar instant of heavenly bliss. Some day.

Arunava Sinha translates classic and contemporary Bengali fiction into English. Fourteen of his translations have been published so far, the latest among them being Fever (Samaresh Basu), Seventeen (Anita Agnihotri), When The Time Is Right (Buddhadeva Bose) and Harbart (Nabarun Bhattacharya).

 

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