Night was descending, the fading red of the sky slowly but steadily getting submerged into the black sky, all set to envelope. The stars in the sky, however, were too early to be spotted but the megastar stood nearby.
In a glittering maroon shirt, looking much fitter than his recent overweight frame, IM Vijayan preferred to stand maximum an inch prior to the perimeter boards. It’s a practice session at the Mumbai Football Arena and the Indian Team had landed by then.
You ignore almost everyone around and go straight to him. The warm embrace, and then his fragrance hits you. “How are you?” he asks. And even before you have asked him how is he, he prefers to evade eye contact, smiles and looks up to the sky. He hasn’t changed, shy as usual.
‘You look fit to play?’ you quip back.
“Yeah, I am playing for my office team. But I have grown old. I am a grandfather now,” he smiles. “Let the younger ones play.”
Shanmugam Venkatesh, Vijayan’s one-time room partner, partner of many a match, comes running. The embrace goes on for long, this time Vijayan looks straight into Venkatesh’s eyes. “Anna, how’s life?” he queries.
“Miss you Anna,” Venkatesh replies, and they embrace again.
For the next ten minutes, Venkatesh doesn’t move, stands just next to Vijayan, the chat goes on, and on. Henry Menezes, currently CEO WIFA, and an ex-Indian Goalkeeper, standing next, also hasn’t moved at all.
Indian Goalkeeping Coach Rogerio Ramos, never someone to miss even a single minute of practice comes all the way over from the other end of the ground, smiles and asks: “Have you brought your kit?” There’s laughter all around, the talk goes on for a couple of minutes.
The dressing room doors have opened by then and on way to the ground, the players hit the roadblock. Subrata Paul salutes the King from a distance, comes up and embraces him; Arnab Mondal wipes his hand twice before shaking hands; Narayan Das bends like a bow, Md. Rafique literally comes running; and the respect in Anas’ eyes was so much visible.
From a distance you watch. They have all been mesmerised by Vijayan one time or the other when they were budding Footballers, or should we say fans. Robin Singh follows, Balwant being the next.
Later Balwant quips: “I’ve heard so much about him from Sukhi-paaji (Sukhwinder Singh). He always told us, unless you have seen him play you haven’t watched Football at all.”
The younger generation, a bit scared to walk up to the King, whisper to each other about his presence. For those few seconds, they forgot their love affair with the ball, they preferred to have a feast for their eyes – just watching IM Vijayan from a distance.
With the Team having gathered in the centre, all the players join in, the practice begins. Vijayan now leans over the perimeter boards and watches.
Some 15 minutes later with sweat dropping down all over from all and with Coach Constantine having called for a water break, the players slowly towards the ice box where the chilled drinks rest.
Captain Sandesh Jhingan takes a few more steps and runs straight to Vijayan. “I missed you Sir. How are you,” the skipper asks. “Carry on the good work,” Vijayan answers back. Understandably the chat couldn’t continue for long as Jhingan had to rush back for practice.
The floodlights were in full glow by then.