How many international matches have you attended so far? Do you keep track?
Of course I keep track. I have watched 204 ODIs, 36 Tests, 17 T20 Internationals and 39 Indian Premier League matches from the stands.
That’s an astounding number.
Maybe. But I am not done yet. I am madly in love with the Indian team. Wherever they go, I ensure I cheer for them. The first match I watched live from the stadium was in Jamshedpur (India vs West Indies ODI at Keenan Stadium) on November 6, 2002. I cycled for several hours from my home in Muzzafarpur to Jamshedpur.
What do you do when India is not playing?
I take up temporary work. I was employed in a government job earlier. I worked in a dairy and I have even taught at a municipal school. But I had to leave those jobs because I would take frequent breaks to travel for matches. They (the employers) didn’t like that.
Now I do odd jobs. I have worked at a construction site, cleaned sewages. It is a matter of survival. I live by the day. I get around Rs 200 per day for such jobs, while food and stay is the contractor’s responsibility. I save all my money for my travel expenses for the matches.
Where do you stay when you travel to other cities for the matches?
It used to be a struggle earlier. I would sleep on the road or outside the stadium initially. But now people know me and I have friends everywhere in the country. So, they invite me to their place.
How about your family? Are they happy with your fanatical love for the game?
My family consists of my parents and two younger brothers. They don’t like it when I travel for all the matches. So I don’t go home anymore. Sadly they too haven’t spoken to me for the past three months.
What do you carry in your bag?
The India flag, oil paints and the flag rod are always with me. A few pairs of clothes gifted by some of the Indian cricketers are also with me. Some of the leading stars have gifted me their old jerseys, practice t-shirts and shoes. I sleep wearing them. I have never asked for anything.
Who paints your body?
I have built a network with body painters in almost all cities and towns of India. While I paint my face, my body is painted by artists. In Mumbai, there are two painters — one at Marine Lines and the other at Nerul.
How do you travel outside India?
I cycled all the way to Lahore to watch India play during the 2006 series and to Bangladesh for some matches. I cross the border on foot, with my passport and visa in my pocket. Recently I went to Sri Lanka for the World T20. I managed to find a sponsor for my air tickets and the visa fee. I know a Sri Lankan fan who arranged for my stay and food at his place.
Have you gone to the Lord’s cricket ground yet?
Not yet. I was hoping to go the last time India travelled to England. I was hoping that Master (Sachin Tendulkar) would score his 100th international century there. I requested him if I could come. He took my passport and assured me I would be at Lord’s. But he went to Switzerland with his family for a holiday before the tour and at that time, the political situation in India took a turn for the worse. There were some bomb blasts here. And in the confusion, I could not get a visa for England.
So, did you watch Tendulkar score his 100th international ton in Bangladesh?
Yes. I was there. Bangladesh has never been a problem as far as travel goes. It was one of the biggest moments for me to see Master score that ton. I was relieved to see him achieve the milestone.
Which is your best moment?
It has to be the 2011 World Cup victory here. And the biggest high for me was when sir (Tendulkar) called me inside the dressing room. I clicked pictures with all the cricketers and lifted the World Cup. I also took a ball from Harbhajan’s bag and got it signed by Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Bhajji and MS Dhoni. I didn’t sleep for days after that. It was magical.
We have heard Tendulkar is very fond of you?
I am fortunate. I first went to meet him during the Jamshedpur ODI in 2002, but he did not play because of an injury. Then I visited the Wankhede Stadium but again without luck. Then one day, someone told me he would be at the Trident hotel in the evening for a party. I waited outside and we finally met. He invited me to his home. He said he had heard about me through the media.
He arranges for my match passes today. Everyone at his bungalow in Bandra knows me. I don’t have to go through the security checks whenever I am visiting his place.
When I was depressed after being unable to get a visa to visit Lord’s, he called me up from London after Harbhajan Singh told him about it. He told me he would make sure I visited Lord’s at least once. I have already started my preparation for the Champions Trophy (in England) in June this year.
How will you get your match pass once Tendulkar retires?
I am sure I will keep getting a ticket for India matches. Other players too know me well now.
I had requested BCCI to make me an official Team India fan much like how the Pakistan Cricket Board has done to their chacha. But Sharad Pawarji did not agree. Pakistan chacha is fully sponsored by the PCB. He faces no issues getting visas for any country.
Till when will you follow the Indian team?
Till the time I am alive. If you don’t see me at India matches, then consider me dead.
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