P.P. Kundu - The unsung hero of Indian football is no more
Honorary Flying Officer (Retd.) Patit Paban Kundu VSM, died in Delhi, at the age of 78 years, of a severe heart attack earlier this week. An asthma patient, he had been suffering for some days, had breathing problems and was moved to hospital. For the current generation of football followers, he is an unknown name. There were no tributes at his death; no football officials came to his funeral.
But for generations of football players, officials and fans of the closing decades of the 20th century, he was the man for all seasons for the Durand Football tournament. Kundu diligently served the Durand football tournament in various capacities from 1973, till he gave up due to indifferent health in 2010. He has been in charge of catering, transport, office management and reservation of hotels for the participating teams. Durand secretaries and sponsors came and went but Kundu, till the end, was indispensable for India’s oldest football tournament. At the Durand office in the Harbaksh Singh stadium, for many years, he was the man-in-charge. The location of each file, letters to prepare, phone calls to make, papers to get signed, teams to contact and all the office work was taken care of by Kundu. Till the age of 76 years, he worked throughout the year for the cause of the Durand football tournament and guided ten officers who served as secretaries for brief periods.
His closest association was with the former secretary-general of the tournament, the late Wing Cdr. K.K. Ganguly, arguably the greatest sports administrator this country has ever seen. Kundu and Ganguly were an incredible duo. In the days before sponsorship, they ensured ample profits for the Durand tournament just from ticket sales, hoardings on the ground, advertisements in the Durand annual magazine and fiscal discipline. Ganguly was the organizer; Kundu was the man of action.
After Ganguly retired in 1989, many of the organizing secretary-generals were serving officers in the Indian Army but had little knowledge of Indian football. Kundu was their friend, philosopher and guide. Because of his Service background, he was always deferential to his superior officers and would start each conversation by saying “My dear Sir.”
Officials and players always liked him because he made sure their stay was comfortable. He would console when a team lost and praise good performances. When a team got eliminated from the Durand tournament and the manager would come to take money for their expenses, Kundu would ensure that the envelope was always ready and he would hand it over with a smile and encouraging words. In this small manner, he helped to mitigate their frustration.
Prior to 1990, the Durand committee organized the Subroto Mukherjee Cup also. For two months each year, Ganguly and Kundu organized the best run football tournaments in the country, due to impeccable honesty and planning. Every Durand final till the end of the 20th century was a sell-out. Both semi-finals were invariably played before a packed stadium. The capacity of the Ambedkar stadium is small but still, during these two months, which were like a football festival, an estimated two to three lakh people in total witnessed the matches.
Kundu joined the Durand and Subroto Mukherjee Cup organisation in 1973 as the camp-in-charge. He was responsible for the young school students who took part in the Subroto Cup. He took great care to see that the players were well fed and looked after. As KK Ganguly used to say, “Kundu was the father, mother, friend, philosopher and guide, everything rolled into one for the young footballers at the Subroto Mukherjee and Durand camps. He would arrange for the football boots to be cleaned and polished, call the barber and dhobi when required. In the Subroto Cup, the players have always stayed in camps, initially at the barracks of the National stadium and later elsewhere. Kundu would stay in these camps himself and wake up the young players, when they had a morning match.
His attention to detail was remarkable. Realising that senior football players could be fussy and even superstitious about what they ate, Kundu tried to cater to the needs of football players from different regions of India with a variety of culinary preferences. The teams from Punjab got North Indian food and chappatis or paranthas with every meal. He ensured that club teams from Bengal got to eat fish and rice regularly. They were served rasgullas as dessert.
Ex-internationals Subash Bhowmick and Mohammed Habib liked a certain type of grilled fish. Kundu made sure that they got the fish cooked the way they liked, especially before important matches. After the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi, the participating teams in the Durand tournament stayed in hotels. Many still opted for Kundu’s food and lunch and dinner was delivered in army trucks. That is why the players, even seasoned internationals, always liked him and called him Kundu da or Dada.
His greatest hour was when riots broke out in Delhi in November 1984 after the assassination of the late Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The Durand tournament was on and teams like Punjab Police had to be protected and so were shifted to the Nehru stadium for security reasons. For a few days Delhi was like a towering inferno, law and order had broken down and there was mayhem everywhere. Shops got closed and the caterer and his staff at Nehru stadium had run away. But the far-sighted duo of Ganguly and Kundu ensured that the teams were well fed. Sensing trouble, Ganguly told Kundu to drive to the Brittania factory and buy loaves of bread worth Rs. 5,000 rupees. They also bought ample eggs, butter and large quantities of milk. The teams trapped at Nehru stadium, thus did not starve. The planning was so meticulous that even school teams participating in the Junior Nehru hockey tournament and staying at the Nehru stadium hostel managed to get adequate food due to Kundu’s generosity. During those troubled days, Kundu stayed with the beleaguered players to ensure they were looked after well, such was his loyalty to his organisation.
Asthma, the Delhi smog and pollution took its toll on him. In the last years of his working career with the Durand tournament, he survived by constantly using inhalers and a nebulizer. Despite laboured breathing, he never gave up and even in the bitter winter weather, came daily to work, travelling by public transport. Kundu and people like him belonged to an age gone by. Honour, and not money, was an incentive. He worked for a pittance, considering the amount of multi-tasking he did for the cause of the Durand football tournament. His happiness lay in successful organisation of the Durand tournament, talking about Indian football and the greats of the past. His loyalty to the cause of Indian football and the Durand tournament never wavered.
Like many people of his community, he always liked football. But the overwhelming passion for the game started when he was posted at Trivandrum in 1956 and watched mighty Hyderabad lift the Santosh trophy for the first time. He always talked about the brilliant attacking football of the 1956 Hyderabad team which scored four goals in the opening fifteen minutes and then eased off to trounce Bombay 4-0 in the final. Next year he saw Hyderabad lift the trophy again in their home town. The admiration remained forever and he always lamented the demise of Hyderabad football.
T. Balaram and the brilliant dribbler Chuni Goswami were his all time favourite players. He admired Inder Singh for his speed and lethal finish, goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj for his long throws and acrobatic saves, Shyam Thapa for his agility and spectacular goals, Mohammed Habib for his never say die attitude and defenders Syed Nayeemuddin and Sudhir Karmakar for their superb interceptions and graceful play. The late S.A. Rahim and P.K. Banerjee were his favourite coaches.