East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan: The partition of Derby Day

A view of the Salt Lake stadium on the day of Derby. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Some people think that football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it is much more than that: Bill Shankly. 

The partition of Bengal happened in 1905 when the then British India administration divided the land into different territories based on language, geography, and religion to some extent. Little did anyone know that over the next 114 years partition will happen 367 times. It will go on like a loop in a discoid timeline, having the aura of immortality and the power of paradigm shift. Folklore will rise out of the ashes of heartbreak, the jubilation of victory. The passionate hurling of cuss words, the frenzied excitement of fans will form the epilogue and prologue of the conscience of the society. 

Boca Juniors vs River Plate, Liverpool vs Manchester United, Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Rangers ve Celtic -- some of the biggest rivalries in the world of football. The chronicles are laced with myths and legends, fervent tales of heroes and fallen angels. And in the pantheon of conflicts, East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan has carved a niche for itself. A somewhat dusty jewel with a majestic air. 

To the uninitiated, the match between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan is known as the Kolkata Derby. The two teams have clashed 367 times with East Bengal leading the head to head win count by 129-118, with 120 drawn matches completing the statistics. But if we forget the drudgery of number crunching and take a microscopic approach, we will hear the 'Ghoti vs Bangal' tussle.

Ghoti is the one who has lived in the West Bengal for generations. Bangal is the one who has migrated from the eastern part of the once undivided Bengal (present day Bangladesh). The match defines the bittersweet relation of the two communities and presents a chance to the fortunate one to assert its dominance, and have bragging rights. It is a clash between different cultures, traditions and even language. The Derby brings friends at crossroads, families at war, quarreling lovers with daggers drawn at each other. Even the cuisines of the day personify the rivalry.

A Ghoti will celebrate with the delicacies of prawn, while a Bangal will rejoice with the dishes of Hilsa. The air will be filled with chants, chest-thumping roars and the sky will be painted with red and gold, green and maroon.

The match opens a deep fissure in the society, and out comes the molten lava of raging banters and war of words, one that resonates till the next Derby. 

In the modern world with changing perceptions, it can be argued that the Derby might have somewhat lost its old-world charm. To some, it no longer bears the nostalgia of the bygone years, but has been stripped to the feud of no consequence. It can be said that the Derby is battling to regain its old glory in a world where the multiplexes and malls are fast eradicating the old dilapidated houses. Only time will tell whether it manages to comprehend the ways of the world. 

But even then, the entity of time has probably never faced a mightier challenge. For it faces the unadulterated passion of the Bengalis. Cometh the Derby Day, and even the mishti doi is forged in the fire of 'the rivalry'. 

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