He parks his bicycle at Sourav Ganguly’s house. And gets his match tickets from Sachin Tendulkar.
For Sudhir Kumar Gautam, life revolves around cricket and cricketers. His face and body painted in tri-colour, the conch to announce the arrival of the team and trigger a wave of frenzied support in the stands, this simple man from Muzaffarpur is now a familiar sight to Indian cricket viewers.
“This is my life,” he says philosophically, pointing to the colours of the India flag painted above his forehead. He has suffered blows from cops, but recovered, with the affection that fans bestow upon him at various cricket grounds in the country.
He has friends in Dhaka, Lahore and Colombo. His well-wishers transcend borders, such is his appeal.
Constantly travelling, Gautam is a rare visitor at his home in Bihar.
“There is so much cricket,” he says.
Nothing, however, prevents him from reaching a match venue. Once, while in a hurry to take the train to Bangalore, he parked his bicycle at Ganguly’s house in Behala.
He will cycle, travel unreserved in trains, but reach the venue ahead of time.
“For one-dayers and Tests, I have to paint a day before,” he explains. For T20 games, he paints on the day of the match. “I have so much work,” he says.
The toughest part is that he does not sleep on the eve of the match to preserve the paint.
“I have to stay awake the whole night to allow the paint to dry,” he says.
Busy man on match days
Sometimes, Gautam is at the team hotel to receive his heroes. Once he reaches the ground, he does not rest for a moment. Greeting the team with a blow of his conch, he keeps the National flag up non-stop until the team finishes training.
“This is tough, but I enjoy it. I get my energy seeing the hard work of the players,” he smiles.
His love for cricket began with a desire to meet Tendulkar.
He cycled all the way to Jamshedpur from his hometown but could not meet his hero on that occasion. “He was injured and missed the match,” Gautam recalls.
Undeterred, Gautam went to Mumbai, but found himself with no access to the players. He knew the team was staying at the Oberoi. “I, somehow, got to the team bus and fell at Sachin sir’s feet,” he says.
He then managed to get himself invited to Tendulkar’s home.
“I stood at the gate from morning to evening. Only when I made a racket did Sachin sir notice my presence. I earned a photo with him, and a match ticket,” he says.
That was in 2003.
Gautam’s reverence for Tendulkar has only grown with each season. His passion for the game has also made him daring.
Once at Cuttack, and then again at Hyderabad, he defied security and scaled the fences to invade the ground. Tendulkar saved him from police punishment, and later admonished him.
“No more running on to the ground!” his hero had said, and Gautam has stuck to his word since.
A celebrity himself
With time, Gautam’s own following has grown. He is often mobbed outside cricket grounds.
He proudly says that he stays with Chacha, the iconic Pakistan cheerleader, when in Lahore. “I get same facilities in Dhaka and Colombo too.”
Gautam’s finest moment was when Tendulkar invited him into the Indian team’s dressing room at the Wankhede Stadium after winning the 2011 World Cup. What does he get from Tendulkar?
“Affection… and match tickets!”
What will he do when his hero retires?
“I will continue to support the Indian team,” the 32-year-old promises. But, with a difference!
His body paint will proclaim: “Miss you Sachin.”