Kerala, communism and Brazil: Football through Pannian Ravindran’s eyes

The CPI leader, who has written three books on football, talks about Kerala's love for the game and its connection with communism.
Kerala, communism and Brazil: Football through Pannian Ravindran’s eyes
Kerala, communism and Brazil: Football through Pannian Ravindran’s eyes
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Pannian Ravindran must be thrilled. The team he has always supported, Brazil, has beaten Mexico 2-0 and reached the quarterfinals.

A day before the match, he was at Vanchiyoor, Thiruvananthapuram with a bunch of fans, watching Argentina play in the knockout stage.

“Aren’t you a Brazil fan, sir?” someone asked him. Yes, he is.

“It’s like two opposing political sides. But the mind is full of love for this air-filled ball,” Pannian says.

He has, a week ago, brought out his third book on Football – Lokam Kaattu Niracha Panthinte Koode (which roughly translates to: The world is with the air-filled ball.)

Long-haired, lean, tall Pannian fits into the stereotype of a football lover more than of a Communist politician. “That’s because you don’t know the connection. Football is a game of the poor. It’s one ball and 22 people. Communism is about the issues of the poor,” the CPI leader tells TNM.

He goes on to talk about what Karl Marx said about football in 1866, at the time of the first Congress of the International Workingmen's Association. “The tired workers must play the game at the end of the day, to clear their minds, Marx said. There is no rich or poor in football, no black or white, no caste, colour, religion or politics. It is the coming together of humans,” Pannian says, quoting Marx.

His love for the game and for Brazil stems from two places, he shares.

The first is the beauty of the sport - Pannian compares the moves in the game to the moves in Samba, a dance form in Brazil. The second is the people of Brazil -"the black children" - who have faced a lot of abuse. Pannian says he stands with them.  

He has been writing about football since he was 20. Those days, he would write articles under the pseudonym PR Kakkad.

“Kakkad (in Kannur) is my birthplace and PR is short for Pannian Ravindran. Writing those articles made me want to find out and learn more about football. I would write down the points I knew little about in a notebook. How football came to Kannur, what is the relationship we have with the game...” shares Pannian.

These notes would help him when he'd later write books on football. From 2005 to 2009, when Pannian was an MP, he would read many books on football from the Parliament. But those did not have all the details he looked for. Searching on the Internet, too, did not help. “What helped me are my old notes...” he says.  

In 2010, he wrote his first book on football, Loka cup football charithrathiloode (World Cup through the history of football).

In 2014, he wrote his second titled Fifa Cuppum Football Charithravum, with the help of late screenwriter, T Damodaran.

In his books are the lesser-known stories of football in Kerala. “This is the state where a football club was started in the name of religion – the HMC Football Club in Kottayam, where H stands for Hindu, M for Muslim, and C for Christian,” Pannian shares.

Pannian does not need time to recall the many stories and details about the game he loves so much. He used to play too, as a boy, and then as a grown lad.

“We didn’t have the money to buy a ball. So we would make one with old clothes and sticks. There are four major football clubs in Kannur – Kannur Lucky Star, Spirited Youths, Brothers, and Gymkhana. I used to watch them and later I became a part of Kannur Lucky Star,” he reminisces. They used to play Sevens instead of the regular eleven-player game since the ground was smaller.

When he grew up, Pannian not only wrote on football but also got into commentary. 

“In 1968, when the Sree Narayana Guru Smaraka Tournament was going on, I became an announcer for All India Radio to do an analysis. I got my first pay cheque that day, Rs 70,” he says.

He showed it to people of his town. His mother was very proud, Pannian remembers. After that, he stopped using his pen name. He was Pannian Ravindran when he wrote books, made his radio announcements and when he worked as a politician.  

Though he stopped playing later, Pannian never stopped following the game. Like most Malayalis, he watches and supports his favourite team.

“Indians don’t play in the World Cup. But then, we all have our favourite teams – Argentina, Brazil, Germany, England, Portugal, France and so on. That’s when we turn world citizens. That’s why a young man in Kottayam took his life now when Argentina lost a match. That’s the depth of the love for football,” Pannian says.

He goes on to narrate a similar incident from decades ago, when Pele, who was heavily injured in a World Cup final and had to go out in a stretcher, announced he would not play for the World Cup again. A woman, who heard had the announcement while on a ship, jumped into the sea, saying her team wouldn’t win without her Pele. “Fifty-two years later, history repeats,” Pannian says, in his cracked voice.  

He tells another anecdote about his favourite team, one he has put in his books. It comes from the World Cup final of 1970, between Brazil and Italy.

“People in Brazil are strong believers of god. There is a statue of Jesus on top of a hill in Mexico where the game was played. They believe that Jesus’ hands are spread wide because god wants them to send a ball kicking to him. But that year, the Pope had prayed to god for Italy to win. Brazilians were disheartened to learn this. They decided they will pray directly to god. And on the ground, they looked at the sky and played. They won the game. And they believe god listened to them, they didn’t need middlemen,” Pannian says.

He has more stories to tell, and these, he will write in his fourth book on football, Pannian says, as the train hoots and whistles. He has to get down.

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