People from other parts of the country, who are oblivious to the intensity of the rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, often fail to grasp why the derby is such a huge deal. It isn’t their fault though, because the ‘boro match’ is riddled with stories that can only be comprehended if you have spent time in the football-mad state of West Bengal. One such tale is that of the lovable Jamuna Das, also known as ‘Lozenge Mashi’ (Lozenge Aunty), who is a regular fixture in the Kolkata footballing circuit.
An East Bengal fan of the die-hard variety, Lozenge Mashi can often be spotted selling sweets and candies to people near the lush-green fields of Kolkata maidan. Over the past two decades, she has become a household name in the city’s footballing circles and never fails to attend any of her favourite team’s matches, be it at the Salt Lake stadium, the East Bengal club ground or the Kalyani stadium. Her effervescent smile and dedication towards the club reflect a deep-rooted love for the game and mirrors the emotions of many who found football at a time when not much else was going for them.
Das’ unshakeable love for East Bengal is one of the feel-good aspects of what is a do-or-die battle for both sets of supporters. Even then, her allegiance has never deterred those from the ‘opposition camp’ to drop by and click a picture with her. Acknowledgement has been forthcoming from the club as well and she was made the 12th member of the side and presented with a customized jersey last year. Fans haven’t stayed far behind either. During the lockdown, an East Bengal fan club took the initiative to generate funds for the 50 something year-old in an attempt to provide her some relief in the absence of actual games.
“East Bengal is the reason for my happiness. It does not matter if they win or lose, the love of the club is something that I cannot describe in words,” she had said a couple of years back during an interaction with the All India Football Federation (AIFF). For anyone who ardently supports a football club, the above statement aptly summarizes the feeling that watching his team play evokes, irrespective of which part of the world he is in. Which is why it is stories like hers that go a long way in reaffirming the idea that football, as a sport, is probably the biggest equalizer of all.
As we inch closer to the second Kolkata derby of the Indian Super League (ISL) season, the biggest dampener remains the fact that those like her will not be able to interact with the players before the game in the way she always has. THAT is essentially what sets the derby apart and in a season that is being played behind closed doors, Das’ tale of perseverance and commitment once again reiterates that at the core of it all, the beautiful game is still for the fans, of the fans and by the fans.