Majid Bishkar

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The Times of India, Sep 06 2015

Siddharth Saxena

The Iranian Was A Rare Maverick Who Shone Brilliantly, But All Too Briefly, In Kolkata's Maidan This story is from a time when Kolkata was Calcutta, when holding the ball was not holding up play but a means of holding sway and when myth-making happened by word of mouth and not sponsor spiel.Also, it's about a ghost, and it's true.Majid Bishkar was a name lost in translation. For all practical purposes, he became Majid Baskar when his genius lay in finding common ground with Indians still in bewilderment of this rare gem. Appropriating Bishkar to a more agreeable, next-door Baskar was our way of making him one of us.Three decades later, it has stayed that way . Bishkar has long since left, and like some old, yellowing photograph, Baskar stays on ­ fading and forgotten. Turns out, Majid Bishkar is also an idea lost in transition. Ahead of India's pre-World Cup qualifier with Iran this week, as one attempts to exhume the footballer who attained mythical status in his brief but eventful stay in the country , you only stumble on more legends attached to him.

That he was the untaught one, that he had a pathological dislike for training, yet he would unveil astonishing gems to make the game his own. That he was so classy and aristocratic with the ball that he seldom broke sweat doing his magic, that those who saw him play swear he never ever played a wasted pass, that he single-handedly rescued an East Bengal side from Maidan ignominy in the 1980s when over halfdozen stalwarts had jumped ship making the proud club look like a junior side.

Despite him also having played for Mohammedan Sporting, somewhere, East Bengal and its accompanying culture of identity and pride can never thank the Iranian maverick enough for appearing when he did. Then, as his star rose and shone brilliantly over the vibrant city and the socio-cultural throb that its football and footballers brought to the mainstream, there was the famous story of how he broke up a famous sporting family from the city with an `unforgivable' dalliance.

And after his rapid decline and disappearance, following addiction to drink and narcotics, some claim he was spotted running a small transistor shop in Siliguri only a few years ago.Withdrawn and gaunt, he was a pale shadow of his once-handsome self, they wailed. Bishkar remains an unknown even in his own Iran. Despite having made the Iran squad for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, little is known of him back home.

One thing is common to all these stories. Each end with the same refrain ­ Indian football never had a footballer of such skill, talent and charisma visit its shores. Before the African influx into Indian club football, he, Jamshed Nassiri ­ quiet, sad-voiced teller of many of Bishkar's tales ­ and Mahmud Khabbasi were the first foreign superstars of Indian football. The Nigerian Chima Okorie may have wrested the `top foreigner' mantle with the sheer force of his physicality and while Jose Ramirez Barreto can also stake claim due to his monk-like longevity in the Indian club scene, Bishkar continues to remain the standard to measure every new arrival by .

That alone, the refusal to let go of that notion, is perhaps Bhiskar's greatest legacy in India.

“In today's football, a player holds the ball only if he cannot find a supporting player. Back then, there was no such compulsion, we did because that was the style and no one could hold the ball and dictate play like Majid,“ remembers Manoranjan Bhattacharya, the then defensive bulwark for East Bengal. “Zidane-like, he was the master of the midfield ­ imperiously creating play and scoring goals even. In my eyes, he was the best that ever came to India,“ he adds. Nassiri, who owes many of his goals to service by Bishkar, remembers him slightly differently . “He would have been a Xavi today ,“ he says, bringing out the essential difference between how a defender and a striker -in the same side -view play . “I do not remember Majid ever playing a wasted pass. He created space out of nothing,“ says Nassiri.

Perhaps it is the vote of the peers that sets a player in his greatness. “As a player yourself, you always recognize a player of calibre,“ says Bhattacharya.“During defence organization matchups, I always wanted Majid in the opposition so I could match wits with him.You were always improving your game when pitted against him,“ he adds.

But soon the fall began. “When a boast of `one bottle of beer before training', becomes two bottles and then three, then you know, the fall is imminent,“ says Bhattacharya. Essentially , he was a simple man taken in by the attractions Calcutta of the 1980s offered.Coming from a suddenly stifling environment of fundamentalist Iran, the free and seductive charm of the city was too great to resist. “I was younger to him so I couldn't say much since I would be shut up,“ concedes Nassiri.Little has been heard of him since. “We didn't hear of him for a long time, then someone said he is currently the youth coach of a fourth division club in southern Iran. “It was good to hear that,“ says Manoranjan, “That he is well. That is good enough.”

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