Once you’ve reached Ichapur railway station, in the North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal, you don’t really need a Google Map or the exact house number of Shib Shankar Patra. Any stranger will guide you to his house which is painted in white and light blue stripes — just like the Argentinian flag. The entire world is celebrating FIFA and its madness is at its peak in Kolkata, so when we heard about Patra, a die-hard Messi fan, we couldn’t help but meet him.
Taking an early morning train from Sealdah, Kolkata, we covered a distance of 20 km to reach the nearest station (Ichapur) where this football fanatic resides. We took a cycle rickshaw to reach his place and landed at his three-storeyed building in Nawabganj which stands tall as a testimony of his love for Messi.
We learnt that his tea stall is popular as Argentina Chai Dokan (Argentina Tea Shop). Once there, we did not take a second to recognise Patra who was sporting the signature Messi jersey. A tall, middle-aged man, he was politely serving tea to his customers. Why such a craze for Messi and football, was our first question. “I was keen on playing football from my childhood days but the financial situation at home didn’t allow me to. Like other football lovers, I too became a follower of Maradona in 1986 when he and his team won the World Cup. In 2011, my love for Argentina turned into a brotherly love for Messi when I saw him playing live in 2011 during a friendly international match between Argentina and Venezuela. That was the moment I decided to paint my three-storeyed house in Argentinian colours,” Patra says. He has done that during subsequent FIFA World Cups.
Patra also had a secret dream to see Messi playing in his last World Cup at Russia and to fulfill his dream, he managed to save Rs 60,000 from his modest earnings. Unfortunately, that wasn’t sufficient to accomplish his dream of watching his idol from the stands in Moscow. “I had to give up the idea,” he laments.
As we enter his three room apartment, we can get a glimpse of his ‘madness’. Not just the walls, but also the wardrobe, table fan, bucket, etc, are painted in the flag colours with Messi’s portrait adorning a few places. It is amazing to see that Patra has also got his puja ghar painted in the same colour scheme.
Patra’s wife Swapna, his 20-year old daughter Neha and 10-year old son Subham, are equally crazy about Messi. “They support me in whatever I want to do for society. I’m involved in a few social service activities like blood donation camp for Thalassemia patients and supporting people who are unable to fund their daily needs. I distribute shoes, dresses, jerseys, footballs, etc,” says an elated Patra.
The Patra family has been celebrating Messi’s birthday (June 24) since 2012 along with other football and Messi fans. “Since Messi is turning 31 this year, we will be cutting a 31 pound cake on his birthday and will also be distributing 100 Argentina jerseys to the local kids. We are also arranging five special Bengali delicacies for Messi’s birthday celebration,” explains Patra. His craze sees him take shendur from the left foot of Lord Hanuman and apply it to the poster of Messi.
When asked what does he feel about the recent performance of Indian football team, Patra says, “Our Indian team is doing a great job in recent times. Sunil Chhetri has been in phenomenal form. Chhetri has recorded the same number of international goals as Messi. So I have a strong desire to see India playing in World Cup too.”
Talking about his favourite position in football, he states that during his younger days, he used to play in left out position.
“During those days, I never got an easy chance of playing in the ground as there were too many competitive players around. But now-adays the grounds are all empty due to lack of proper coaches, training and devotion. Children are now more indulged in smartphones and tablets which are cutting down their playtime,” Patra regrets.