The Brazilian great Pele is known for his gifted footwork but once when I was in a moment of gloominess he put his hands around my shoulders and began asking me how India was doing on the path of development.
It happened in Denmark which is known as a land of fairy tales, especially those brought to life by Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish master of storytelling. And, in the capital Copenhagen a few things are as central to culture as fairy tales. So it probably shouldn’t surprise you if miracles happen there. Even more so when you happen to be in the company of the Little Mermaid, a bronze statue born of a popular fairy tale by Andersen.
But on 15 May 2003, when a miracle happened to me at the Copenhagen waterfront, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
I was on a solo trip to the city. Since the era of selfies had not yet arrived, I was looking for a tourist to help me get my photo clicked with the statue. I was a bit sad too thinking about the grey sky which does not allow perfect lighting for photography.
But the very next moment my gloomy mood evaporated as I looked at a just arrived group of tourists. Altogether six persons made the group but a smiling black guy was undoubtedly the centre of gravity. He was getting photographed by a professional looking cameraman. Other four were looking at him with admiration. As I got closer, I realized it was Pele! I couldn’t believe my luck – I was actually going to meet one of the most famous people alive.
It was just a coincidence that I was already at the spot where Pele stopped for his photo, and there were not many tourists around due to the unusually cold and windy weather. Also, unexpectedly, apart from the photographer travelling with him, I was the only person there clicking his pictures. He must have also noticed that at that time I was the only one around him who appeared to be from the Indian subcontinent thousands of miles away. However I will never know why he invited me to have a photo with him.
Pele asked a member of his entourage to take my camera and click the photo. Since I knew that not everyone can take a good picture with an SLR camera, I took out a point-and-shoot camera from my pocket. He could not stop laughing at my act and instructed the woman holding my camera not to spoil the photo.
I stood next to him nervously just to get in a frame. But when he put his hand on my back showing great warmth, my hand spontaneously went on his back. Regaining my confidence, I requested him for one more picture lest the first one gets blurred. So he extended his hands towards me with a big smile. And, it didn’t take me long to hold the hands of the King of Football.
We kept talking while walking to his car which was about 100 meters away. He recalled with a smile his visit to India and the craze for football in Calcutta. He showed special interest in knowing how much progress India is making on the path of development. He was a truly global citizen.
It was a fairy tale experience in the land of fairy tales.
Overwhelmed, I could not even ask him about the reason for his Copenhagen visit. That night, while watching a news broadcast in the hotel room, I learned that Pele was in Copenhagen to receive the nomination as a Goodwill Ambassador for the upcoming 200th birth anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen.
Speaking at the nomination ceremony, Pelé noted that Andersen and he shared a common background, both rising from poverty to find love and respect around the world. Indeed a fairy tale! And we need more of it in the world of today and of tomorrow so that our children could follow in the footsteps of such greats.