Kolkata, Dec 7, 2008: Frenzied Kolkatans didn’t seem to have enough of Argentine football legend Diego Maradona as he visited the Mother House here to pay obeisance to Mother Teresa and later called on Marxist icon Jyoti Basu, crowding both venues for a glimpse of the star and screaming themselves hoarse with their slogans.On the second day of his visit to the city, Maradona lit a candle at Mother Teresa’s tomb, participated in a prayer session with the sisters of the order, and shook hands with the orphan children to fulfil a wish that he has nurtured for years.
And from all accounts, Maradona and Basu got along famously - thanks to their common “friend”, Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
“Viva Maradona”, “Maradona, Maradona”, shouted frenzied fans as he went to pay homage at the tomb of Mother Teresa - the Catholic nun revered worldwide as the Apostle of Peace.Maradona spent half-an-hour at the Mother House, the global headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa in South Kolkata.
“I wanted to see what Mother Teresa has done in this city. So I want to utilise this trip to visit the Mother House,” Maradona said Saturday, disclosing why he had agreed to come to the city.
Mother Teresa, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, is known for her monumental work among the underprivileged.
Clad in a black T-shirt and jeans, Maradona arrived in a silver-white Mercedes at Mother House to deafening cheers from thousands of people who waited for hours on the streets and had perched themselves precariously on trees and walls of nearby buildings for a glimpse of the soccer genius.
He waved and threw flying kisses, as nuns of the order, draped in blue-white sarees received him on the narrow ally leading to the Mother House. Once inside the courtyard of the building, Maradona and his girlfriend Veronica were welcomed with a blue-white garland by the sisters, who also seemed to enjoy every bit of their interaction with the soccer superstar.
Evidently in high spirits, Maradona went round the building, and met the young orphans - some of them mentally challenged. He patted the infants on the head and kissed and embraced them before proceeding to the room where the Mother’s grave lies. Hands clasped, Maradona stood silently before the tomb and then lit a candle as the sisters chanted prayers.
Pindrop silence descended on the room once the prayers ended, as Maradona seemed to soak in the serenity of the place. He then knelt down and kissed the white marble of the tomb. Before leaving, Maradona went back to the children. “Bye, bye”, he said. Outside, soccer fans sporting Argentine jerseys tried to break the barricade put up by the security personnel deployed in strength.
“I want to touch his feet - his left foot, and see what it is made of,” said a youth. “If he doesn’t mind, I want to embrace him. Can you help me?” was another young Maradona fan’s plea to a scribe. Maradona called on Basu later in the day.
“Maradona told Basu, ‘I (Maradona) am a friend of Fidel Castro, and you (Basu) are a friend of Castro too’,” West Bengal Sports Minister Subhas Chakraborty told mediapersons waiting outside Basu’s home in North 24-Parganas district. “He further said ‘Whoever is Castro’s friend across the world is also my friend’,” Chakraborty added.
The football hero met the nonagenarian politician for 10 minutes, but disappointed his fans who waited in hundreds outside Basu’s residence. Lending a communist hue to Maradona’s visit to Kolkata, the organisers had arranged for a tete-a-tete between him and Basu. Maradona, a great admirer of Castro, readily agreed to call on Basu at his residence after seeing a photograph of the former chief minister with Castro.
The photo, showing Castro and Basu standing side by side, was taken in 1973 when the former Cuban president visited the city. It was sent to Maradona about 10 days ago by the organisers of his visit. Kolkata, the soccer crazy hub of India, had accorded a tumultuous welcome to the hero of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup triumph since he landed in the city in the wee hours Saturday.
More than 50,000 exuberant fans spent a sleepless night as they assembled at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport and lined the route of his convoy upto the hotel. Around 80,000 people turned up Saturday afternoon at the giant Salt Lake stadium, where Maradona was felicitated. He also laid the foundation stone of the Indian Football School at Maheshtala, 13 km south of the city.