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Seeking Sania's autograph

September 20, 2005 20:04 IST

There is a word in Bengali that defies exact translation into English. The word is 'hujug'. It can partly mean hype, but it transcends that. It can also mean a reason to party because of something that engulfs everybody. And Kolkata loves a hujug.

It was evident once more on Tuesday, the second day of the Sunfeast Open tennis tournament. An appearance by India's newest mass messiah Sania Mirza -- about two hours before her first match of the tournament against Junri Namigata -- turned out to be a bigger draw than the games on inside the Netaji Indoor stadium.

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Half an hour before Sania was to appear at the Bengal Peerless Housing Development Cooperative stall inside the stadium premises, a small crowd began to gather outside the stall. The word spread fast: Sania Mirza is coming.

By the time the 18-year-old tennis sensation arrived, dressed in white and flanked by bodyguards, the small crowd had become a big queue of autograph hunters and a bigger gathering of people than any of the matches have seen so far -- a media feast. Sania gave away t-shirts and autographs, but not before the police intervened to break up a few skirmishes.

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The game of politics

The Bengal Peerless Housing Cooperative is partly owned by the West Bengal state government, and has Mahesh Bhupathi as its brand ambassador.

Sania's unscheduled appearance just goes to show how strong the winds of change the red state are. The communist government has gone the whole ten yards to promote the WTA event and the new-look stadium as symbolic of a resurgent Kolkata. In fact, many newspapers on Tuesday had a field day playing with photographs of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in a mock on-court duel with Bhupathi during the inauguration of the Sunfeast Open on Monday. From 'sporting chief minister' to 'who says you can't play tennis in a dhoti' to 'Marxist minister, bourgeoisie sport', the captions said it all.

There was another political subplot being played out around the tennis tournament. State Transport Minister Subhash Chakraborty went on record saying he 'ideologically supported' the 48-hour transport strike called by private taxi and bus operators.

Chakraborty is an old Communist party of India- Marxist hand, and a sports event without him making an appearance is like a remake of Murder without Malika Sherawat.

But he is not in the chief minister's camp. So, an unopposed transport strike during an event being promoted by the state government has set tongues wagging.

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Sania after Sunny

Sania Sania Sania
You have taken the world by storm in a year
With your smiling face
You serve a bullet ace
On any given day
With your superb power play
Any seed you can face

This was the song, composed by a teacher, that students of Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan sang to India's newest teen icon Sania Mirza on Monday.

This is probably the second song ever to be written as an ode to an Indian sportsperson. The first was 24 years ago, when a small, sprightly Indian batsman wowed West Indies on his debut tour. King Sunnyade wrote the calypso for the man who would later go on to become the first man to score 10,000 Test runs: Sunil Manohar Gavaskar.

Sania's date with students of two girls' schools -- Carmel Convent being the other one -- also gave the ordinary Kolkatan the first glimpse of the star. As Sania's cavalcade -- jeep-full of security men ahead, ambassador-full behind -- wound its way through busy, narrow south Kolkata streets, the enthusiasm spread like wildfire. Soon, there was a crowd along the road, jostling for a glimpse of a smile they had come to recognize instantly.
Sumit Bhattacharya in Kolkata