This is the only time in my life I have ever posed for a photograph with a celebrity. But then, I come from Calcutta, where, faced with soccer legends from Brazil or Argentina, even shy men are likely to abandon their reserve. The year was 2002, and I was in Japan to watch the football world cup. A kind of press gathering had been organised in honour of the visiting Pele and I was among many starry eyed journalists who had gathered to gape at the great man. Quite overawed, since it was only my second trip outside the country, I stood in a queue and waited my turn to shake his hand.
When my time came, I felt tongue tied, staring at the man I had idolised since my school days; his eyes seemed bloodshot, there may even have been a whiff of alcohol in the air. Pele looked up and asked where I came from. I said Calcutta.
At this, his face was suddenly transformed. He leapt from his chair and, putting an arm around my shoulder, exclaimed, “Calcutta!” Everyone in the room had turned to notice. Who was this young lad the great man had taken a shine to? “Calcutta,” Pele was saying with a dreamy look in his eyes, “I was there once, many years ago.” “Yes, 1977,” I reminded him. “That's right. What a city. You know, I felt like I was in Brazil! So many people came to the airport, followed my car to the hotel. Everywhere, there were such huge crowds, I felt like I was at home,” he said.
Pele wasn't making this up; I could hear the emotion in his voice, the squeeze on my shoulder. And then I asked if I could have a picture with him. “As many as you like, my friend,” he bellowed and summoned one of the organisers to click one. As you can see from the picture, I am like a little boy strutting his chest out, rubbing shoulders with his greatest sporting hero. It is a photograph very dear to me, one which brings a tear to my eye this morning, as I read he is no more. Sleep well, Black Pearl. You were very, very special.
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