Bengal pride and Sourav Ganguly: The Maharaja of Indian cricket
We are Bengalis. And Bengalis have a lot in common. A lot. It doesn't really matter if you are an Indian Bengali or a Bangladeshi Bengali, there are a lot of common denominators that make us very similar.
Obviously, there are some differences.
You walk on the roads of Calcutta and you will see a lot of food carts. And they are, in most cases, delicious. The roads and transport system are more organized than the ones you will find in Bangladesh. The people are slightly ruder and blunter over there in West Bengal than here.
However, the similarities, man - there are so many of them. But if I were to name the biggest similarity between us, it is pride.
I used to dislike Sourav Ganguly. Mostly because my father loved him so much that he mocked Sachin as an inferior mind to that of Ganguly.
He sensed Bengal pride in him. "Baagher Baccha" my father used to call him, which roughly translates to "Son of a Tiger." It got to a point that when Greg Chappell dropped Ganguly from the team, I was elated. My father was livid. Both at Chappell and Dravid.
Now, I had the upper hand over my father. Now, I could taunt him. I used to tell him Ganguly is never making his way back to the team. Never.
My father, however, had more belief in Ganguly than he had in himself. He was sure that the Prince of Calcutta would be back. He just was.
The news was filled with it. Every time my old man tuned into sports news, it was always Chappell vs Sourav. Always. In the meantime, Dada was ripping it apart in the domestic circuit.
Obviously, that made the news. I also remember a story that Dada ordered special bats for his comeback to the international arena - "new weapons" - but I was sure that he wouldn't make it.
But, man, he did. That son of a gun didn't know how to quit. I remember how happy my father was when he made his comeback against South Africa in Tests. While I was hoping that he would get out for a duck, Ganguly scored 51 which helped India win the game. He went on to have very successful series and then also made his comeback against West Indies in the ODIs.
I remember jumping with joy when he got run out at 98 - all to anger my father.
11 years down the line and I hate that kid with all my being because that kid didn't let me grasp the genius that Sourav Ganguly was.
That kid didn't let me bask in the glory of the grit that Ganguly had. That kid denied me of a stronger childhood. That kid stopped me from being mentally strong. That kid denied me of Bengal pride.
As a Bengali, I am one of those people that are more ashamed of their race than proud. But Ganguly's book, A Century is Not Enough, brought out the Bengal pride in me.
I have always felt that we Bengalis are generally lazy and laidback and channel our energy more on doing harm to others than for actual good.
But there are some anomalies - and Sourav Ganguly is one of them. While reading the book, I could relate a lot of myself with the former India captain.
This was a man who comes from a conservative Bengali family with an overly-religious mother - just like mine - and was mentally weak for most of his early 20s (again, just like me). He is also bitter and still holds grudges against people who wronged him (Greg Chappell) and has no intention of forgiving them ever in his life - just like me.
But this is where the similarities stop. From here on, there is nothing similar between me and Ganguly.
When the chips are down, I crumble inside a blanket and go to sleep. But Dada, no, he doesn't do that. Instead, he claws back harder than ever before.
When Ganguly was bestowed with the honor of being the captain of India, he completely transformed himself from a shy and conservative man to a ruthless leader that had no fear of anyone.
When he was dumped out of the Indian team not only as a captain but also as a player, he could have easily retired and still be considered a legend. But he chose to come back and win the war against Greg Chappell.
Reading Ganguly's book made me realize that more than shyness, this is a man full of pride in his achievements. "My team", "my players"... these are some of the very common phrases you would find in the book.
And he had absolutely full right of using them. It was his team. They were his boys. It was a team that was not only respected by the top echelons of the cricketing fraternity, it was also feared and not to be trifled with.
When he was a player, I never understood his importance to the Indian cricket team. It was after he completely retired from the game was when I begin to fathom as to what he was. As they say, you understand the value of someone after they are gone.
I absolutely loathed his act of opening his shirt at the Lord's balcony after India won the Natwest series. A captain, I believed, should not have done something like that.
Looking back at it now, I think deep down, even I felt satisfied that a Bengali went to the Mecca of cricket and waved his shirt over the Englishmen that ruled over the subcontinent for generations.
It was a Bengali that once galvanized the British-oppressed Indians by saying, 'give me blood and I shall give you freedom'. And it was also a Bengali that ruled over them at the holy ground of cricket.
In many interviews, Sourav Ganguly lamented the incident and claimed it to be one of the biggest regrets of his cricketing career. But deep down, even he knows that it was necessary. It was an act that stunned the Britishers and made them realize that their rule was over - that we are not going to be oppressed and be trifled with.
That day, Sourav Ganguly didn't represent just India - he represented Bengal; the whole of it.
Whenever I see that moment now, whenever I watch his glorious innings after his comeback, I swell with Bengal pride with tears in my eyes. I am not one to be proud of something that I had no control of since this is decided by birth, but Ganguly makes me proud to be a Bengali.
Because he is a baagher baccha - and it gives me hope that one day, I shall be one too.