Review of Sudipta Biswas’s Tulsidas Balaram — The Boy, The Hero, The Tormented Footballer: Golden boot

A biography resurrects the forgotten footballer, Tulsidas Balaram, a key member of India’s gold-winning Asian Games football team of 1962

October 13, 2023 09:00 am | Updated 09:00 am IST

Tulsidas Balaram

Tulsidas Balaram | Photo Credit: The Hindu photo archives

There are hardly any books on football in India. Novy Kapadia’s comprehensive work, Barefoot to Boots, narrates little-known stories revolving around the history of players, the administration and clubs. Bengali writer Moti Nandy’s novellas earned accolades for his ability to grip the reader with some enchanting sport lore. A tribute to Tulsidas Balaram in the form of a delightful biography should win the hearts of football lovers, who yearn for writing by Indians on the beautiful game.

In Tulsidas Balaram: The Boy, The Hero, The Tormented Footballer, Sudipta Biswas, a sports journalist based in Kolkata, captures the world of football when India boasted of some classy players. A random phone call to Balaram led Biswas on an unforgettable journey and the result is a 329-page throwback to India’s glorious years of football in the late 1950s-early ’60s. It was known as the golden era of Indian football and Balaram, a distinguished forward, was an integral part of it along with legends like P.K. Banerjee and Chuni Goswami.

In a simple and lucid style, Biswas relives some magical moments as he builds the momentum through interviews with Balaram’s contemporaries, and solid research.

Triumph at Asiad

The chapter on India’s 1962 triumph at the Asian Games stands out as Biswas reconstructs the occasion with Balaram’s help. He starts with details from the preparatory camp in Hyderabad and then ventures into the tournament with an account of the initial 0-2 loss to South Korea, and the eventual 2-1 win over the same opponents in the final to clinch the gold. The chapter outlines the struggle to raise funds for the team’s travel before the government pitched in to put the players on the flight to Jakarta.

The team, writes Biswas, suffered injuries, illness to key players, defender Jarnail Singh and goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj, apart from a hostile reception from Indonesian sports lovers. But coach Syed Abdul Rahim kept the team focussed and inspired the players to win the gold. Biswas writes about how Rahim’s passionate pre-match speech in the dressing room boosted the confidence of players. Biswas reveals how Rahim stayed strong despite being ravaged by cancer and being denied the Padma Shri for his splendid contribution to Indian football.

Balaram’s fate was no different from his coach. “When the government deemed Rahim ineligible for any civilian awards, Balaram fell prey to the dirty politics of unscrupulous sports officials and politicians. He was supposed to be the fourth Indian footballer ever to be conferred with the Padma Shri after the legendary Gostha Pal (1962), Sailen Manna (1971) and Chuni Goswami (1983),” writes Biswas.

The heartbreaking episode of Balaram, who represented East Bengal football club, not being honoured with the Padma Shri has been emphatically highlighted by Biswas. Balaram was shortlisted for the award by a specially-appointed committee; two police officers landed from Delhi to do a character investigation; and newspapers flashed his name as a Padma Shri winner. “On January 26, his name was missing among the awardees. His file was lost,” reveals the author.

The book is replete with rare anecdotes and Biswas narrates them with flourish. It is a must-read for lovers of football, and footballers.

Tulsidas Balaram: The Boy, The Hero, The Tormented Footballer; Sudipta Biswas, Hawakal Publishers, ₹550.

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