| IN GOOD FAITH: A little customer at Gopalda’s shop. Picture by Amit Datta
A 10-year-old girl makes a dash for a deserted neighbourhood shop, picks up a pack of biscuits, puts Rs 12.75 in a bowl and traipses away, munching on her favourite snack.
Welcome to an old curiosity shop in Basirhat — one with plenty of shoppers, but no shopkeeper in sight. Welcome to Gopal Stores.
For years now, 59-year-old Gopal Majumdar has been the symbol of simple faith in humanity in the sub-divisional headquarters of North 24-Parganas. For, he trusts all those who flock to his shop, enough to leave it open for them to pick up what they want and drop the money into the bowl of faith.
From cakes to eggs, there’s everything for the taking. Each item carries a label spelling out the price and everyone follows it to a paisa. No one will violate Gopalda’s trust.
The shopkeeper conspicuous by his absence has another claim to fame — he is the man who put Basirhat on the map of Indian football.
Majumdar never played football outside his district, but his contribution to the Calcutta Maidan goes far beyond the boundaries of Basirhat. Among the many footballers he has coached and inspired is former Indian captain Aloke Das.
Hardly ever at his source of livelihood — his shop — he is forever at the site of his passion — the football field. For over 30 years now, he has been passing on his soccer skills from one generation to another.
“We are so proud of him. Gopalda keeps himself busy coaching football. He just opens his shop and then makes his way to the playground,” says Sushanta Mukherjee, after picking up some eggs and biscuits from the shop, calculating the cost and dropping Rs 20 in the bowl.
“We come, buy whatever we need and leave the money behind. There is no question of duping him. We can’t think about it.”
His role as mentor to many budding footballers has earned Majumdar — crowned best footballer of Basirhat sub-division twice in his playing days — the title of Dronacharya.
“Like Drona in Mahabharata, he has all but devoted his life to creating football players. And he has been successful in sending out so many promising footballers from this corner,” said Babon Ghosh, one of the many ‘fans’ of Majumdar, gazing wistfully at the patch of playing green.
The list of Majumdar proteges is long —Aloke Das, Partha Dey of Tollygunge Agragami, Najimul of Mohammedan Sporting Club… “He is my guru. He taught me how to kick a ball… That I went on to captain the national team was because of him,” says Aloke Das.
Majumdar, who underwent nine surgeries after an accident nine years ago, is now facing hard times. The little shop of honesty is his sole source of sustenance and he has a family of four to run.
The Basirhat Sub-Division Sports Association had recently planned a charity football match to raise some funds for him. But Majumdar volleyed a veto.
“I don’t need anyone’s sympathy,” says ‘Dronacharya’. “I am fed up with local politicians calling me the pride of Basirhat and making empty promises about helping me.”
But there is no bitterness when it comes to justifying the way he manages his shop. “I believe in a simple ideology — if I don’t bring harm to anyone, no one will do me any harm. I keep my shop open because I know no one will cheat me.”