In Spain and Por­tu­gal, foot­ball is not a game, but a re­li­gion

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - Text and pho­tos by Saub­hadra Chat­terji

The last time I sought an au­to­graph was when I went un­in­vited to a Ra­hat Fateh Ali Khan con­cert at an Au­rangzeb Road bun­ga­low. Mer­rily soaked in free-flow­ing Glen­fid­dich, I went to the back­stage. In my toota-foota Urdu, I re­quested for a sig­na­ture and handed over a pen and paper.

In the mid­dle of a galaxy of VIP ad­mir­ers, Khan sahib scrawled for a few sec­onds. Then com­plained, “Yeh pen toh kaam nahi karta ji!”

I stopped scout­ing for au­to­graphs. I quit Glen­fid­dich, too.

Now, as I stand in front of a re­cep­tion desk in a down­town Lis­bon ho­tel, there’s an urge to break that vow.


For, I see a lim­ited-edi­tion foot­ball signed by none other than Chris­tiano Ron­aldo at the desk and it could be mine. I have to tell the ho­tel man­ager that he is my hero and that I’ve a book­ing at Pes­tana CR7 be­cause he is the co-owner of the prop­erty.

Al­though the ho­tel staff didn’t check us in for the next six hours, I am thrilled about my prized pos­ses­sion.

“There can’t be a bet­ter begin­ning than this,” I tell my wife as we keep the foot­ball in a locker and walk down the beau­ti­ful cob­ble­stone streets of Lis­bon’s Baixa area. Be­hind us, the sun has just greeted Por­tu­gal’s orig­i­nal hero – Vasco da Gama. He is sit­ting hap­pily atop a tri­umphal arch and watch­ing ships pass by the Ta­gus river.

There’s a nip in the air and I’m lov­ing it. A crowd has al­ready gath­ered at the fa­mous Santa Justa el­e­va­tor. It takes you to higher ridges of Lis­bon and at night, of­fers a breath­tak­ing view of the city.

We are headed to Café Beira Gare. The tra­di­tional joint of­fers a sump­tu­ous Por­tuguese break­fast. Nearby, a hole-in-the-wall bar sells Gin­jinha – Lis­bon’s favourite drink. The Por­tuguese love this sour drink – made from berries, su­gar, cin­na­mon and brandy – so much that if they love the taste of any food they would say, it tastes like Gin­hinja!

My wife, mean­while, delves into the Rick Steves’ guide­book like a stu­dent whose exam starts in a few min­utes. I no­tice the only beg­gar in this small yet pic­turesque square. A closer look re­veals his dress, with pieces of torn cloth ran­domly stitched, is ac­tu­ally a Ben­fica foot­ball club jer­sey.

An even closer look re­veals the beg­gar is also wear­ing a cutout of Chris­tiano Ron­aldo near his chest!

It takes me an en­tire af­ter­noon’s sur­vey in the fa­bled Alfama district to re­alise that for Por­tu­gal’s aam admi, CR7 is cer­tainly a leg­end but not ex­actly the lo­cal hero.

Alfama is like Chandni Chowk on an un­du­lat­ing ter­rain. The cramped lanes are like liv­ing rooms of the com­mu­nity life. Old women wait in front of

I feel like a re­li­gious mi­nor­ity in Madrid be­cause amid red-white striped jerseys, I’m wear­ing a Barca T-shirt

BEND­ING IT LIKE RON­ALDO Girls play foot­ball at a plaza in Tavira, Por­tu­gal; (Inset) Boys play beach foot­ball in Spain

TRA­DI­TIONS UN­TOUCHED The iconic tapas bar in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor that cel­e­brates bull­fights

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