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Sport in a Broader Social Matrix


Sabyasachi Dasgupta

SCORING OFF THE FIELD: FOOTBALL CULTURE IN BENGAL, 1911-1980
By Kausik Bandyopadhyay
Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group, London, New York, New Delhi, 2011, pp.315, 895.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 2 February 2012

We have seen Bengalis assembled on various occasions of danger, distress and sorrow, such as that of the Partition - Mohun Bagan has infused a new life intro the lifeless and cheerless Bengali - By your victory sport has been turned into a unifying force - (Basumati, 5 August 1911) The victory seems in retrospect to have been a triumph of the moral force which Gandhi extolled and advocated in Hind Swaraj-the win over a white team in football seemed a moment of national pride. It appeared as some sort of recovery of dignity and self-respect in the year that Calcutta was to lose its status as the capital. It was the inhe-rent inequality of the encounter in which the apparently weak trounced the obviously strong that made Mohun Bagan's victory the stuff of legends. (Rudrangshu Mukherjee, 'Elegy on the Maidan', The Telegraph, 5 March 2002) Mohun Bagan's unanticipated victory over East York in the 1911 IFA Shield Final has since spawned in its wake a gamut of writings extolling the salutary effect it had on the psy-che of the colonized Bengali. The Bengali squirming under the oppressive yoke of colo-nial rule and the virtually daily insults and humiliations which came in its wake chaffed at the further ignominy of being dubbed as an effeminate species if these writings are to be believed. Mohun Bagan's victory vindicated these charges of physical inadequacy. The Bengali proved that he could take on the colonial master in the master's own manly pursuits and eke out decisive triumphs. Kausik Bandyopadhyay's monograph argues along these lines and tries to infuse it with academic rigour and the trappings which come with a theoretical framework. He essentially argues that Mohun Bagan's victory was a classic case of the colonized inverting the logic of the colonial master by beating him at games the colonial master regarded as the repository of certain values. The colonizer  sought to transmit these values to the colo-nized by teaching him these sports as certain western sports historians have argued. The Bengali though according to Bandyopadhyay derailed such ambitious cultural projects by evolving a uniquely indigenous style of playing football. Mohun Bagan's victory steeped in a uniquely Bengali-Indian style heavily based on barefoot dribbling skills was thus an important victory for the colonized as far as the battle against the colonial project of hegemonizing the Bengali mind was concerned. Bandyopadhyay thus argues within a cultural history framework where duels ...


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