That love was forged not through television or the power of moving imagery. It was through the magic of the written word, through the fantastic interpretations by the likes of Vimcy (alias Vilayattasseri Mullambalath Balachandran). Legions of youth feasted on his words and went on to become even more fantastic sports writers. (Today, Shaiju Damodaran’s high voltage commentary in Malayalam is what even Anand Mahindra, even without knowing a word in Malayalm, tunes into).
And then television happened. We got the first glimpse of the samba-ish rhythm of Brazil, and we relived the glorious days of Pele in grainy black and white.
So to this day, if the fields of Malabar come alive to the emotional chorus of passionate young footballers through the sevens tournaments, Kerala has much to thank Pele and the yellow devils.
The early years were also when Kerala ruled the Santosh Trophy circuit, flagging off with the first success in 1973-74. And even in the heights of success, Kerala never gave us a Sreeshanth in football.
These men who brought the state the honours would simply go back to their day jobs – some (historical footnotes say, even as manual workers). Much like Brazil, Kerala too had its ‘World Cup’ equivalent – the Santosh trophy – winning it five times before adding the sixth this year. (So, if coincidences are anything to go, it is probable Brazil might have the last laugh).
But there are fascinating subtexts in history that link Brazil to Kerala – and that is added reason, why we might remain the ‘Best Fans Forever (BFF)’ of Brazil.
That could start with our humble Kappa – the tapioca, once the staple food of Malayalis. Even to this day, a feast of boiled kappa, with just a chutney of green chillies and onion laced in coconut oil, is enough to make our day. If the accessory is a spicy hot fish curry, yummy, it is heavenly bliss. Wash it down with toddy, and you are the emperor of the world.
Well, our humble Kappa is a native of northern Brazil (though there are historical records of tapioca being cultivated in El Salvador as early as 1400 AD).
And in its journey form the hinterlands of Brazil to the shores of Kerala, there is an even bigger historical twist.
Just as Italian explorer Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ America and paved the way for the Spanish conquest of the world, Brazil too was first spotted out to the world by a Portuguese ‘nobleman’ – Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500 AD.
That was only two years after Kerala was ‘discovered’ by Pedro Cabral’s co-traveller Vasco Da Gama.
Now, the interesting part: Let us say for argument sake that if Vasco Da Gama had never discovered Kerala, then you could safely infer that Brazil might never have become the Portuguese-speaking nation.
As historical texts say, following Gama’s return to Portugal, Pedro Cabral was appointed to head another expedition to India to establish trade relations. Eventually, he would become the first ‘captain to touch all four continents.’
Why was Cabral’s trip necessary? Here comes the next link in the bigger history of Kerala and the Middle East. Kerala’s spices trade was then controlled by the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria. Along with the Venetians, they ruled the maritime routes.
Cabral’s reward? Thirty tonnes of black pepper from Kerala to be sold in Europe.
The discovery of the Indian Ocean route by Gama was a blow to the Mamluks and Venetians, and tension simmered. The Portuguese, being Portuguese, were seeking alternative routes. And so it is that Pedro Cabral set out on March 9 to India with two fleets. According to reports, one headed straight to Malabar. Cabral’s ship found its way to Brazilian shores.
The Kerala connection doesn’t end there. After spotting the huge landmass, now called Brazil, his mind was set on his ultimate destination – where else, but Malabar. Around September of the same year, Cabral arrived in Kozhikode, greeted the Zamorin, and sought out the opening of a factory (alias trade/military post).
Now, here is where you must not take Malayalis for granted. A few months later several hundred feisty Malayalis pounced on the unsuspecting Portuguese, killing 50 of them. We could assume that at the head of this was Kunjali Marakkar 1.
Pedro Cabral assumed that the attack was planted by Arabs and not wanting to distrust the Zamorin waited for him to apologise.
No apology forthcoming, he vented his fury on the Arabs. His team killed several hundred merchants and workers, and the ire not diffused, Cabral launched a fierce attack on our poor Kozhikode.
He didn’t return to Portugal without meeting with the Kochi vassal, who was waiting to revolt with the Zamorin. The two formed an alliance, and Pedro Cabral returned with a load of Kerala pepper.
Anger unabated even on his return, he was to lead a Revenge Fleet to ‘teach Zamorin in lesson,’ but as luck would have it, he was relieved of the duty. Years later, plagued by different fevers, he died in 1520.
Brazil remained a Portuguese colony for long; Kerala came under the British yolk with the rest of India.
FIFA says the first football laws were codified in 1863 in London, and that is the origin of modern football.
And Brazil’s own football history says the country started playing the game only in 1894 after a Scotsman Thomas Donohue introduced it. And another Scotsman, William Logan, would go on to document the history of Malabar.
In the silences of history, there would surely have been a moment, when a jolly good Portuguese member of Pedro’s team, kicked a ball – perhaps an empty coconut shell – to a Kozhikodan. And they tangoed! As our spirits thrive to this day.
Yes, we shared the history of Portuguese dominion, we share the tapioca and we share the love for football – as much as our life.
(Images used from online sources without any intention to violate copyright; please let know of any objection)