During partition of Bengal, a young lad from the then East Bengal, now Bangladesh, was forced to leave his familiar childhood surroundings in Narayanganj, Dhaka and migrate to Kolkata to build his future. Life for the young lad in the then undivided Bengal, was one of fun, frolic and school routine. His mother’s attempts to get him to study only encouraged him to jump into the Sitalakhya River and swim deftly to escape getting caught.
He would challenge his friends to stay underwater and beat them to it. Stealthily getting into the neighbor’s garden with friends to pluck guavas was what he enjoyed. The lad had a strong frame, lots of energy, adventurous and a healthy appetite. When the normal quota of milk did not suffice, he would use a long weed straw, (paat kathi) slip it in from outside the kitchen window and into the milk vessel where the milk was cooling and drink to his delight.
Beginning of a journey in a new city
Kolkata for the young Karuna was a new city and peculiar in many ways - his favorite guavas for instance had to be bought. The family went through difficult times, his father expired early and his widow mother with three children had to live with kind-hearted relatives to keep going. Karuna was still the strong boy with an iron will to prove himself in life. Thus started a momentous journey of this lad, who would go on to become a fiery fast bowler of his times and a well-known footballer.
Sad at being rejected by his school in their football team, apparently because he did not have power in his kick, Karuna went to the Ballygunge Lake football ground one evening and started kicking the football vowing to prove himself. Also present at the ground, coaches TK Das (Kaluda) and Amiya Kumar Banerjee from White Border Club keenly watched the youngster’s impressive shots. They checked his interest in the game and resolve and invited him to play in a match in which he fared very well. The young Karuna never had to look back after this; he went on to become a seasoned cricket and football player under the guidance of both his mentors. He dabbled in hockey as well.
A sea of memories
He can barely stop the gush of memories of all that happened in his sporting career ranging from 1948 to the early ’60s. Karuna specialized as a right arm fast bowler in cricket and represented White Border Club and Milan Samiti Club.
His colleagues recall that he was ferocious, especially on matting wickets, using swing and off-cutters to terrorize the batsmen. As a footballer, he specialized as a right half for Kalighat and Aryan Clubs and for Sporting Union.
Apart from the numerous sporting medals, Karunamoy carries the 'mementoes' of a chin stitched up and lips which also got cut during action. Pointing to an area on his head which got a nasty cut when playing against East Bengal Club, Karuna stopped the famous Fakri from scoring a goal in a heading duel.
Taking an average 4 – 5 wickets in most matches came easy for him, but his eyes lit up when he narrated his biggest haul of 10 wickets in an innings in a first division CAB league match against Dalhousie Club.
He was the first to capture all 10 wickets of an innings in a CAB 1st Division League match. Premangshu Chatterjee achieved this feat earlier in Ranji Trophy. Karuna Banerjee was perhaps the only player to play with half-sleeves recalled his colleague and friend Dipakranjan Ray.
Karuna sacrificed his career for the sake of his club. He was told that he would be selected to represent Bengal in Ranji Trophy, provided he opted to play for a bigger club. He refused to budge from his stand that he should be considered only on his merit and not on the basis of his Club. He was fiercely loyal to White Border Club. Many players who started their careers in this club, played for Bengal later after opting to play for bigger clubs but not Karunamoy Banerjee. He was different.
--- Dipakranjan Ray, Former Cricketer
The retirement at his peak
At the peak of his sports career, Karuna was selected from East Zone for training in fast bowling at the famous Gower Academy in England, the journey, he was told, was to take seventeen days by ship. The selection committee consisted of India’s greats like Lala Amarnath, Vinoo Mankad, Mustaq Ali, The Maharaja of Cooch Behar (also faced Karuna), Nirmal Chatterjee and Kartik Bose. As fate would have it, owing to the paucity of funds, the trip was cancelled. He lamented that even the blazer fittings were given to the tailor.
When contacted, his friends spoke about Karuna being a true sportsman, passionate about his game, a stickler for discipline, straightforward, always a team player and forever ready to help and guide whosoever wanted support. Always early for training, he never hesitated to roll the pitch if required. Once during a football match, when his shoe-lace snapped, Karuna did not hesitate to replace it with his sacred thread. For him there were no compromises on the field, even when it came to those who were close to him. Yet, his guidance was passionate and incisive. Watching a budding bowler being hit, Karuna asked the bowler to pitch it again on the same spot and lo and behold, he got the stumps. Focused completely on his game, he never cared to collect the numerous press clippings and photographs that the media churned out on him. So much so, he even gave away a good number of his trophies to budding sportsmen to see them happy. For him, life was going with the flow.
As part of his stamina training, Karuna ran a minimum of four rounds of the entire Lake area and sprinted with trams when they were in speed. Reminiscing his early days, he played bare feet with a sari border wrapped around his ankles for support.
He stated that his employers UCO Bank with whom he spent forty long years from 1955 to 1995 were very supportive of his talent and he received great patronage from Chairmen like Mr. V.R. Desai and Mr. RB Shah.
Happy Birthday Skipper
Karuna slipped into oblivion just as he blazed into the limelight, disillusioned about his potential not being fully exploited. This article is a small step to revive memories of this unsung hero of Bengal who turns 80 today. Happy birthday Skipper, we wish you the very best and look forward to your century.
Out of turn love & respect for honest achievers & scorn for cheaters in more proportion. No caste creed region religion bias... Gains are far more than gones in life... please convey deepest regards to your illustrious father. PS: Intriguing East Bengal to East Pakistan to Bangladesh now where my roots lie
November 24, 2013
Thank you for your good wishes - I do wish everyone gets their due. My father and we are lucky to have been given this opportunity to share his story.
It's very well-written, keeping in mind that the person about whom this piece is scripted does not have a strong memory now. Though I am 7 years junior to him, but we worked together in the same office, played for the same club. I met him in 1964, when he was on the verge of retiring from cricket, and had already hung up his football boots. Many things about his early struggle were not known to me. That he was a recluse in talking about himself is evident because even being close to him, I didn't know about his selection for training in England. On his 80th birthday, I salute him as he is my hero. May he lead a happy and peaceful life.
November 24, 2013
Your words gave us the biggest support to put this together. Yes Baba's memory is fading but he does recall his young days and remembers all the names of his colleagues and fellow sportsmen. My deep regards to you for sharing your thoughts on Baba.
It is really disappointing that he could not play for Bengal as well as India... Wish him a great birthday. Happy Birthday Sir.
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