Dr. Tridip Sheet : “Nobody could puzzle me except Sarat Das, whose presence in front of me in the field made me fool and I became puzzled and forgot everything, even what to do in that moment.” (Fred Pagsali, Anglo Indian footballer played for East Bengal during 40s)
1947, for most Indians, has been remembered as the year of Independence, but for the football fraternity of this country, this particular year has been reckoned for something else. The year witnessed Mohun Bagan Athletic Club clinch the IFA Shield title for the second time in their history only after the success of historic 1911. This has been a long period of 36 years, during which Mohun Bagan had to be satisfied with 3 runners up titles- first in 1923, when Mohun Bagan went down to Calcutta Club in the final by a 3 goal margin, followed by a huge upset against Aryans when Mohun Bagan lost in the final by 1-4 in 1940. Five years later, the tussle was between the two archrivals and Mohun Bagan lost it 0-1 against East Bengal. Fred Pagsali scored the only goal in that match. Mohun Bagan took the revenge in 1947 when Salim scored the only goal for Mohun Bagan to beat East Bengal. Mohun Bagan became the champion under the captaincy of Sarat Das.
On 11 th June, 1916, Sarat Das was born to Probodh Chandra Das and Pramoda Das. His place of birth was Suita district, Guwahati, Assam. Das started his early education in Sutia School of 10th District and then went to M.E.M.E School of Ujjan Bazar, Guwahati. Then he moved to Cotton College of Assam. During this period, his football skill was noted and he was selected in the Union Club of Assam and then he joined Maharana Club. It was Maharana Club, for which Das came to Kolkata to play in the IFA Shield.
It was 1940, when Sarat Das played his debut match in Kolkata. It was a match between Maharana Club and Mohammedan Sporting Club. That time Mohammedan Sporting Club had won the Calcutta first division league 5 consecutive times from 1934 to 1938 and was the only Indian club to win the IFA Shield after Mohun Bagan. Sarat Das was playing as a right full back. Nobody could have expected any trouble for Mohammedan Sporting in taking the match in their way, but to utter surprise Maharana Club took the lead in the game and almost finished the game just before Rahim scored the equalizer to end the game in a 1-1 draw. In the next day, Mohammedan started heavily, doing whatever possible to take the lead, but couldn’t find any way to sneak through the defence of Sarat Das. In the schedule time, match was ended in a goal-less score, Mohammedan managed to score a single goal just before the end of the extra time. Spectators were amazed with the performance of Sarat Das. The game actually did change the life of Sarat Das.
During 1940, Mohun Bagan offered him to play in the Rovers Cup. The offer was made by Mohun Bagan ground Secretary Mr. A.C. Guin, who went to Das’s residence at Guwahati. Das did play for Mohun Bagan in that edition of Rovers Cup.
In 1941, three clubs of Kolkata, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Kalighat came in contest for Sarat Das. On his way towards Kolkata , Das was travelling via Assam Mail. At that time, the scheduled route for Assam mail was via Ranaghat. While East Bengal and Kalighat officials were waiting at Sealdah station for Das, Mohun Bagan official Saroj Dutta hired him from Ranaghat station. Since then, Sarat Das was an important part in the Mohun Bagan deep defense. Das played for Mohun Bagan till 1948. During his association with Mohun Bagan, Das was named captain of the squad twice, in 1946 and 1947. He played for Bengal in the Santosh trophy. Out of his four appearances Bengal won the title for 3 times.
“Sarat Das is undoubtedly the best defender I have ever seen” Padmashree Goshtho Paul.
Sailen Manna actually reckoned him as his mentor in his football career. During his association with Sailen Manna at Ripon College (presently known as Surendranath College), Das introduced Sailen Manna to Mohun Bagan in 1943. (“I did not create him, only I discovered. He had really some quality….”)
“Sarat Das made me feel the importance of positional play; what to do and what not to when you play as a side back” …Sailen Manna once mentioned in his Mathe Moidane article.
Although, Das retired from club football in 1948, he played few more matches for Mohun Bagan in 1952. During Helsinki Olympics, 1952, Sarat Das fielded himself in the Calcutta first division league matches due to unavailability of few key players for the national team.
Sarat Das was also noted for his acting skills. He did few films in regional language. Some of his noted film is Ito Sito Bohuto, released in 1963 was a first ever Assamese full length comedy movie. Das was also featured in Nimila Onko (1955) and Loti Ghoti (1966). Dr. Bhupen Hazarika composed the music of Loti Ghoti and was known to be a very good friend of Sarat Das.
Das never used to have chewing gum during the game; instead, he used to keep paan (betel leaf) in his mouth.
After retirement as a footballer, he worked for Food Corporation of India. Das got married to Pranati Das in 1956. He was transferred to Coach Behar in 1970, and then moved to Malda in 1977. He had well excellence in billiards also.
This great talisman soul departed on 9th October, 1989. This might be the biggest irony for this unsung hero that same year Mohun Bagan celebrated its centenary year.
-Dr Tridip Sheet (Research Scholar, A Mariner who has a passion in Photography)