Maradona pays homage to Mother Teresa, meets Basu (Intro Roundup)

December 7th, 2008 - 10:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Dec 7 (IANS) Amidst fan frenzy, Argentine football legend Diego Maradona criss-crossed the city to seek spiritual peace at the Mother House, talk politics with Marxist icon Jyoti Basu, and enthral sports buffs with his incredible skills here Sunday. Kolkata continued to be in the grip of Maradona fever, as thousands poured into the city streets on the final day of the soccer hero’s two-day trip to the city, his first-ever.

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.

Maradona was thereafter driven to the Mohun Bagan ground, where he showed awesome ball juggling skills to the roar of about 14,000 spectators in the galleries.

Sporting a white T-shirt, Maradona seemed to revel in his connect with the adoring crowd, as he kicked as many as 17 balls to the galleries with his famed left foot, kissed the ground and thumped his chest in a take-off on his idol and revolutionary leader Che Guevara.

There were frenetic cries of “Three cheers for Maradona”, “Maradona - we love you” and “We want more” as the soccer genius enthusiastically kicked the balls during his 15-minute stay at the 119-year old club, considered a symbol of Indian nationalism during the pre-independence days.

Though Maradona’s appearance was far short of the 45-minute schedule announced earlier, nobody was complaining.

“He is a man of the masses. The football lovers couldn’t have hoped for a better view of him, and the breathtaking soccer skills will be treasured by all for the rest of their life,” said Bagan treasurer Debasish Datta.

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