Leander Paes: 'Bhalo theko, PK da'

'Stay well, PK da': Leander Paes remembers his friend, mentor and guide PK Banerjee who passed away on Friday.

Leander Paes recollects the moments he spent under the guidance of PK Banerjee.

Memories march on as I write this. It has taken me a while to come to terms with the fact that P.K. Banerjee, or PK da as I would call him, is no more. As my condolences go out to his daughters and family, I am searching for words, travelling in a time machine to go back to those days, when I would learn the basics of football from the one and only, PK da!

He was a friend of my father (Dr. Vece Paes) and someone who was always there to guide me. Be it in tough times or in happier days, PK da would be the one to ensure that we focused on the future, and that’s how I would like to remember him.

READ| Obit: The incomparable P. K. of Indian football

I can recollect watching him play in an exhibition match between Mohun Bagan and Eastern Railway. Coming from a family, which has allegiance to Mohun Bagan, I was naturally a green-maroon supporter, but I was awed to see PK da scoring the winning goal for Eastern Railway from 30 yards out with that famous left leg. It was incredible!

So, a few years later, when my father took me to train under him, I was very  excited. But if you are PK da, you knew how to make friends! Soon, he became my mentor, pal and a guide. He had a solution for every problem and taught me how it was important for a player to utilise both the legs for balance and to keep the opponent guessing. And interestingly, we did not have a fixed training spot. Someday we would be at the CC&FC, sometime it would be the Mohun Bagan ground, or even at the maidan near the Red Road in Kolkata.

A joyful gentleman, PK da was a powerhouse of energy. He would crack jokes, tell us anecdotes from various football matches he played and most importantly, would ensure that we overcame every challenge. It was PK da, who introduced me to the philosophy of my favourite footballer Johan Cruyff, which was to play the Dutch style of ‘total football’.

GALLERY| In Pictures: Life and times of P.K. Banerjee

Later, I have been to Barcelona, have read a lot on Cruyff, but I still owe it to PK da for introducing me to that concept. After every game, he would hug us, advise us on how to tackle tough situations, and would always have a positive approach. ‘Never give up’, he would say.

After I switched to tennis, he would still keep a tab on my performances and would advise me on a thing or two. That was him -- always ready to help out a fellow sportsman.

After I took up the racquet sport, he had told my dad that I would go far.

As I returned to Kolkata after winning the Junior Wimbledon title, PK da greeted me with a smile at the South Club and said: “I told you so…” He hugged me tight and then said: “Now, get me a Wimbledon title and a medal in the Olympics…”

After Atlanta 1996, I met PK da again and his one-liner was back: “I told you so…”

Such men are rare these days -- achievers, yet down to earth, and someone who would speak his mind. When he would chat with me, who would say that he was such a great footballer! He joked with me, advised me and every time I needed help,  PK da was just a phone call away.

The last time I met him, a few years ago, he greeted me with that infectious smile and said: “I am proud of you, champ…”

I will miss you, PK da. You will live among us. Bhalo theko!

(As told to Shayan Acharya)

Support Sportstar


Dear Reader,

Support our journalism — where text and pictures intermingle so seamlessly — and help us scale up your experience as the world changes around us. Your contribution is vital to our brand of uninfluenced, boots-on-the-ground reportage that’s worth your while. Clickbait sensationalism is not for us, but editorial independence is — we owe it to you.

Read the Free eBook