Euro 2020: Why does this small town in West Bengal deck up to support France?
The Euros are here, and football fans in India are looking forward to a month of exciting football. But a small town in West Bengal would be glued to their television sets with a little more at stake than others.
As we count down the final few hours before the start of the Euros, thousands of football fans in India would be drooling at the prospect of a month-long footballing extravaganza.
While some might be hardcore fans of a specific international team due to the legacy passed down by previous generations, some newer fans might support a side because of their allegiance to a certain player. But in Chandannagar, some 35 km north of Kolkata, supporting France in international events is an absolute given.
A French colony till 1951, Chandannagar still retains its cultural ties with the European nation. While this is mostly due to the benevolence of the French rule that gave way to self-dependence post the freedom struggle, credit also goes to the French authorities' efforts to maintain cordial relationships. Just in 2018, the Director of the French Institute in India called upon relevant stakeholders to make the riverside town a tourism hub. That isn't surprising either, considering the rich architectural specimens that still stand tall amidst newly constructed buildings.
Over the centuries of French control over the stretch between Chandannagar and Chinsurah further north, the town developed quite a distinct Indo-French identity that has stood the test of time. The beautiful thing about that is that it wasn't 'imposed' upon the locals, and as a result, people do not think twice before identifying themselves as 'part-French'.
And nothing brings that emotion out more than football. Even when the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann lifted the World Cup in 2018, the quaint town of Chandannagar, like its distant cousins Puducherry and Karaikal down south, celebrated with huge fervour. Life-size posters of the players and huge French flags and banners were commonplace, as was the genuine happiness in the success of a nation, a part of which is intricately woven into the fabric of the town.
Come the 11th of July, if it so happens that the Les Bleus lift the Euro Cup for the first time since 1998, rest assured that Chandannagar will sleep much later than the rest of the country. Of course, one could call this living vicariously over the leftovers of a long-gone past, but for many of the locals, this is just them keeping in touch with something that has shaped their formative years, or at least trying to.