Jhulan Goswami's hometown remembers the girl who did it all by herself
As Jhulan Goswami played her last match for India, Chakdah watched with bated breath. Even those who had gossiped about her earlier.
Chakdah: When the teenaged Jhulan Goswami had found her life's calling in cricket, she did not have many allies. Lalpur in Chakdah, 70 km from Kolkata, a small town of narrow lanes, narrow minds and houses made of exposed brick, always found it unnatural for a girl to be chasing a dream in sports.
As Goswami, the highest wicket taker in women's ODIs, took her last bow at the age of 39 against England at Lord's on Saturday, the few allies she did have fondly remembered the girl who wrote her own destiny.
At her house, a two-storey building which has come up in place of the earlier tin-roof house recently, her parents, her brother, her sister and a few neighbours crowded around the TV well before the match started.
"We won't get to have this feeling ever again, of seeing Jhulan play for India," said her brother Kunal Goswami.
"When she used to take the 5 am local train to Kolkata to go to training, there were many days when she used to come back home midway - from Naihati or Sealdah - when the train was late. She never gave up despite those hardships. That journey is coming to an end today," he said.
In Lalpur, every local happily directs all visitors to Goswami's house, or the Nabin Sangha Club, where she started playing. There has never been a bigger star from here. But those in the know warn that there is more here than meets the eye.
"Chakdah is not like Kolkata. Whatever Jhulan Goswami has achieved has been through her sheer willpower. There were a total of three-four people who supported her. Even now, while most will say they are proud of their ghorer meye (local girl), they still do not take kindly to girls playing," said Chandan Mukherjee, the secretary of the Nabin Sangha club, where Jhulan spent most of her time growing up.
How Jhulan's best friend's dreams were snuffed out
Jhulan Goswami's best friend from those days was Lina Saha Majhi. Both girls, of the same age, caught the cricket bug at the same time. Come rain or shine, Jhulan steamed in to bowl all day while Lina batted. Unaware of the disapproving looks from all quarters, the two friends then cycled back home, discussing ways of improving their games.
But while one of them persevered, the other's sporting dreams were snuffed out in the bylanes of Lalpur, where houses are built so close to each other that even the walls are known to gossip.
"Amader parae ma, kakima, jethima ra onek kotha shonato (The women of our locality used to gossip about us.) They used to tell us nobody would marry us because we were becoming darker. Perhaps she could deal with it better than I could, but at one point our paths diverged. While she went to Kolkata to train professionally, I got down to getting marks in my exam. Modhobitto poribare ja hoe (You know how middle-class families are)," said Lina.
Jhulan and Lina started playing together at the age of 5-6. From cricket, football to more sedate games like rannabati (cooking), kumir danga (crocodile and bank), or carrom if it was raining, they played everything. Neither of them had television sets at home, so the only way for them to catch glimpses of international cricket was to stand outside the windows of somebody's house. When Vinod Kambli's tearful exit signalled the end of India's World Cup campaign in 1996, the two friends consoled each other on their way back, not knowing one of them would one day be in a similar position.
"Cricket has made Jhulan a celebrity, but there has been no effect on our friendship. When she got the ICC Player of the Award in 2007, she mentioned at the press conference that she used to play with me. That was enough for me," said Lina.
"We still discuss cricket, I tell her if I spot any technical fault when I see her bowling on TV. I never got to play professionally, but when I see Jhulan play for India, it feels like I am also playing through her," she added.
2017 heartbreak lives on
There is an air of celebration in Lalpur on Saturday, but because of Durga Puja, not Goswami's swansong. No one has an answer why no public event was organised on the cricket match, but a few agreed that things might have been different had the 2017 World Cup final gone India's way.
When India suffered that heartbreak five years ago, a public screening had been arranged in Lalpur. Thousands had gathered to watch their local hero script history. But even though Jhulan Goswami herself starred with 3/23, the Indian team fell short by 9 runs. The trauma of that day still lives on.
Speaking at the press conference on Friday, her last as an India player, Goswami said, "I played in two World Cup finals. If we had won one of them that would've been great, because that is the ultimate goal for us. That's one regret I have."
In Lalpur, where people left the screening in tears five years ago, there has never been another such event. The Cricket Association of Bengal, meanwhile, announced on Friday that her final match will be shown at a multiplex theatre in Kolkata.
"It is not that Lalpur does not remember Jhulan Goswami, or even that they do not love her. But no one thought of arranging a public event this time. That 2017 final made the women's game more popular here than ever before, but things returned to the way they were before after the defeat," said Chandan Mukherjee.
But the lack of noise is quite fitting. The news of Goswami's retirement has been accompanied by none of the accoutrements one can expect to come with the end of such a storied career. Even in her final series, she has opted to stay out of the spotlight; so much so that it was captain Harmanpreet Kaur who announced for her that she was going to retire.
To illustrate how grounded Goswami has remained despite her feats, Mukherjee related an incident.
"I once called her to invite her for an event, she was in the middle of her India practice then. She picked up the call and said she has not become such a big person that I would have to call her for such things, she wanted to be the person calling."
"As a person, she has remained as humble as hardworking as she always was. Yes, there have been some changes. She speaks in English a lot these days. Like Sachin Tendulkar had learnt to speak in English because of cricket, so has been the case with Jhulan," he said.
For now, Lalpur will await 'Chakda Xpress', the upcoming Bollywood film based on Jhulan Goswami. But locals are apprehensive about how true the film will be to real life - especially given that the film's producers decided not to shoot the film at the actual location.
"There was suddenly a huge crowd one day when the production crew landed here. But they soon went away because they could not find a good place to have lunch. Later, I heard the shooting had been shifted to Shantiniketan," said Mukherjee.