While some work with families, others embark on epic journeys to fuel World Cup enthusiasm
Meet Swadesh Shekhar Haldar, a 46-year-old resident of Dum Dum area of Kolkata, on his second World Cup journey. Back in 2011, the last time the tournament was held in the Indian subcontinent, Haldar visited every city in India that hosted their matches. He was not a big fan of the game, and had never witnessed any action from inside a stadium; but he is the man behind the enthusiastic jerseys, flags, whistles and hats sold outside, things that make the atmosphere so alive.
In the last 25 days, Haldar traveled almost 6750kms – from Chennai to Lucknow via Delhi. This cricketing journey started on October 3, and since then he has been traveling the country. Moreover, before the World Cup final is held in Ahmedabad, he will add another 3000kms to his journey.
Haldar began his World Cup preparations three months in advance, reserving train tickets for each city where India was scheduled to play. So, so far he has been to Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune, and Lucknow; next in line are Kolkata, Mumbai and Bengaluru. If India advance to the semi-final and final, Haldar is all set to retrace his steps in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, where he has already made reservations.
Although not an ardent cricket enthusiast, Haldar started selling flags and caps back in 1998. It was only since the 2011 World Cup that he started selling player-themed jerseys with player names and numbers. .
“In the past it was mostly flags, headbands and caps that dominated sales, but now T-shirts are leading the way,” he said. “Our goal is to sell about 150 T-shirts in each city, although we sometimes manage to sell only 100-120.”
The bestselling T-shirt? This is Virat Kohli, closely followed by Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni, Suryakumar Yadav, and Shubman Gill. But, interestingly, people these days are more frugal with their spending. Earlier, they would easily part with 400-500 rupees for a T-shirt, but now, even shelling out 200-250 rupees feels like a huge investment, resulting in a slim profit margin. .
Paritosh Roy, another T-shirt seller, highlighted the challenges and devotion that define their unique trade. He told us, “Virat Kohli’s T-shirt tops the sale, followed by Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni, Suryakumar Yadav and Shubman Gill. But earlier, individuals did not hesitate to pay Rs 400-500 for a T-shirt; now even Rs 200-250 seems like a high price, thus affecting our profit. However, we have been in this business for many years, so there is no room for to others to take the risk of starting something new.”
During the off-season, Roy shifts to selling fish in Kolkata, while Haldar sells fruits on the streets of the city. For those from faraway places, there is the challenge of finding accommodation: some choose to rent rooms in small hotels or lodges near the stadium, while others prefer the open sidewalk, thus trying to maximize profits.
Umesh Kale, a 38-year-old shopkeeper from Mumbai, says, “Staying in a hotel and eating out is not practical. After all the hard work, what’s the point if we don’t make any money? So we sleep on the sidewalk of the stadium, and use the utensils to prepare our meals.”
Kale is not alone in this venture; he was accompanied by his mother, brother, sister-in-law and a baby girl. With an abundance of T-shirts to sell, the two brothers set up their separate stalls; his mother and sister-in-law, on the other hand, prepared meals around.
Kale mentioned that he has been part of this business for two decades. He has been there in every season of the IPL since 2008, except for the years affected by Covid-19. During the cricket off-season, he expanded his horizons by traveling to different cities to sell hockey and football merchandise, especially the Indian Super League.
Raja Mandal’s train reached Lucknow early in the morning. As the day before the game, he took a quick breakfast at the station and then headed to the stadium. However, he did not eat anything until late at night due to the lack of cheap dining options near the stadium. Even street vendors with snacks and samosa transferred to the police. Therefore, Mandal relies on nearby sidewalk vendors who serve patties to satisfy his hunger.
Mandal said, “This job is fraught with difficulties, and requires extensive travel. When we travel by train, we face challenges from the police because of our large bags of goods. Besides, the policemen near the stadium are also constantly moving our stalls. In addition, you can only find the right food at night; during the day, you should have enough of patties and samosa.”
Despite the challenges, Mandal finds great joy in his work, driven by his deep love for cricket. He is proud of his connection to the game, albeit indirectly.
Daya Sagar is the sub editor of ESPNcricinfo Hindi. dayasagar95