If ever there was any official sporting capital of India, unequivocally it would have been Kolkata. The city, which has always boasted about its tradition, culture and food, is also brimming with a passion for sports. In fact, whether it is football, cricket, hockey, kabaddi, volleyball or any other game, here sports is not just a mere mode of recreation, it is a way of life. And when it comes to the cricketainment of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the excitement gets doubled.
Don’t just take my word for it. Come and witness the extravaganza at the Eden Gardens during the IPL season.
Packed capacity at Eden ..what a venue ..happens every game pic.twitter.com/49O7dt8QVP
— Sourav Ganguly (@SGanguly99) April 8, 2018
It has been a decade since Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have enthralled fans in the city and their players have become household names. Season after season, game after game, fans have filled up the stands of Eden Gardens to cheer for the Knights, irrespective of their performance, especially in the first few seasons. ‘Korbo Lorbo Jitbo re’ is certainly the most popular punchline in Kolkata’s sporting arena.
Over the years, despite not enough local players in the squad (none this season), the city can somehow relate to the ‘Men in Purple’. Perhaps that’s why more than 80,000 people thronged to the Eden Gardens on a rainy afternoon, just to watch the felicitation ceremony of the KKR team, when they won the championship for the first time in 2012.
Being a cricket journalist in Kolkata, over the years I have been fortunate enough to experience this craze surrounding IPL from a close proximity. Nowadays, I don’t get phone calls for tickets from friends and relatives during an international fixture in the city, but interestingly, when the IPL season is on, the requests keep on pouring. During each home game of KKR, the iconic Eden is packed to its capacity. The online tickets get sold out within minutes of them becoming available and for the counter tickets, there are always long queues outside the Mohammedan sporting club. Hot sun, humid weather, thunderstorms — nothing stops these die-hard fans from coming to Eden and cheering for their favourite team.
In my experience, the famous encounter between KKR and Pune Warriors, captained by Kolkata’s favourite son Sourav Ganguly, back in 2012, has to be the most memorable IPL game ever, purely for the enthusiasm that particular fixture had generated amongst the fans. The entire city came to a stand still on that evening. And this can only happen in Kolkata. Perhaps that was the only occasion when the loyalties of a sell-out Eden crowd were equally divided.
However, this purple fever goes beyond the stands of Eden Gardens and television screens at home. During these two months (April-May) the topics of the ‘adda’ in offices, schools, colleges, public transport or in the local tea stalls revolve around IPL. Various KKR fan clubs in the city and in suburbs install big screens in their localities to get a stadium-like feeling. Furthermore, whether it is the Esplanade, Gariahat or Ballygunge — during the IPL season, all the renowned street markets of Kolkata turn purple in colour as those get filled up with unofficial KKR merchandise.
Also, in order to cash in on the IPL frenzy, many pubs, bars and restaurateurs offer cricket-themed cuisines and packages. Famous sweet shops in the city prepare IPL special ‘Sandesh’. There are even discounts available, based on the on-field performance of KKR.
For Aritra Basu, a city-based cricket scribe, IPL is more like an annual festival for the Kolkatans.
“For the people of Kolkata, IPL is not a mere cricket tournament. It is an annual festival, like Durga Puja. The excitement is so high surrounding these matches, a lot of media outlets, including ours’, have to publish special editions in order to cater to the demand of our readers. Don’t think we do the same when India feature in World T20 or in Champions’ Trophy,” Basu mentioned.
Dipankar Ghoshal, another well-known cricket journalist in Kolkata believes it is the combination of cricket and entertainment which keeps people engaged. According to him, IPL is the second most favourite sporting event for the Kolkatans after the FIFA World Cup.
“An IPL game is an action-packed three-hour blockbuster. It has all the drama one needs. I know people who have no idea of Test cricket but still go to Eden Gardens to support KKR. Basically, they cheer for Shah Rukh Khan’s team. I am sure you are getting my drift. I believe, after the football World Cup, IPL is the most followed sporting event in this city,” he said.
In my opinion, Kolkata is an emotional city when it comes to sport, and unlike any other local sporting side, KKR have provided the fans plenty of reasons to rejoice. Undoubtedly, the ‘Men in Purple’ is the most successful team hailing from this town and that’s why the City of Joy is ecstatic about this team and the IPL.