A Messi freekick, freezing Lyon and a pen – tales of a European sojourn

A pen. Beautiful, granted, but still just a pen. A Cartier: shiny, a little bit heavier than a biro and emblazoned with the Milan club crest. But still just a pen – the opening lines of Andrea Pirlo’s autobiography was stuck inside my head as I examined my pen. It wasn’t a Cartier. I never looked at it so closely but I felt a connection. When did I buy this pen? I don’t remember. I don’t use pens. I am a digital writer. I never write. I key in. I have keyed in for the last 10 years. Until 2016.

The black body of the pen was adorned by a gold crown at the cap with ‘Flair’ embossed in the clip. As I looked closer – The ink cartridge was blue. Plain old blue. I looked at the pen, spun it around in my hand like an infant examining its first soft toy.

“Can I take the exams online?” I had asked before the first trimester exams. The answer: a resounding ‘No’. Back home, my father would buy me two Mitsubishi gel ink pens before the semesters. Black ink, plastic body. In Brussels, I didn’t know where to find one. Sitting in my room, I went through my bag. I found,

  • An IFBI engraved Parker from the welcome kit at the beginning of the course
  • Two FIFA etched ball point ones that we received during our visit to Switzerland
  • A couple of Reynolds that somehow ended up in my documents file

And this black pen.

As I opened the cap and scribbled on the chequered IFBI notebook, it felt good. The grip was firm, the shape, comfortable. As the ink flowed on the paper, the smoothness reminded me of the roads from Lausanne to Nyon. While the Swiss Alps couldn’t quite fascinate me, the experience of walking the corridors of FIFA and UEFA was permanently etched in my mind. Add steaks and red wine to it.

But why was I thinking of Switzerland in the middle of an exam? I don’t know. I looked around the class. I looked back at my pen. I felt a sharp chill as I touched the metal clip. Oops, that’s Lyon cold – I muttered. Lyon was cold – the weather, the food, the bed in the hotel. I saw Alexander Lacazette but he was a prick and didn’t pose for a photo.

However,  he wasn’t the biggest prick we met. It was Yaya Toure. No wonder he doesn’t receive many birthday cards. There’s nothing much to like about Manchester City except their academy. State of the art, period. But Manchester bears similarities with Kolkata – old world charm, art and culture and lots of Manchester United fans. And boy, they’re loud.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he is a Swedish hero,
On a free from PSG he cost us fuckin zero,
Six foot five, hard as fuck, he gets the Reds excited,
Stick your City up your arse,
‘Cause we are Man United.

I heard that crap throughout Stockholm. So much excitement for a Europa final? Seriously? They were lucky. Sitting in my cushioned seat at the Friends’ Arena, I saw how lucky Paul Pogba was. But it didn’t matter. I was tripping on witnessing a European final, LIVE.


“Is this question from Man City?” – I was brought back by one of my classmates. I looked at the question. I looked at the watch. I looked at the pen. The golden crown of the cap sparkled.  I studied the thing from a few different angles, seeking out hidden depths and meanings. Trying to understand. Trying so hard that I felt a headache coming on and a few drops of sweat slide down my face.

The headache was probably due to the lack of sleep but the beads of sweat lining my forehead took me back to Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities. The Camp Nu is an experience. It intimidates you but when Lionel Messi bends in a free-kick, the intimidation turns into divinity. It’s surreal just like me doing a master’s degree in football business management.

Last June, I was sitting in Kolkata cursing my life when an advert popped up on my Facebook feed. Clicking on it changed my life, forever. A journey that started at Indiranagar in Bangalore has now seen its peak. I still had a couple of questions to answer but my mind was trying to sort out a different one – can I ever top these experiences? Maybe not. But why was I wasting time focussing on a pen rather than finishing off the paper? What was so interesting about the pen?

Finally, the flash of inspiration arrived. Mystery solved: it was, indeed, just a pen. No added extras. Its inventor had left it at that. Deliberately? Who knows.

Then why was I focussed on it? I wasn’t. I was just trying to prolong my stay in the classroom. It was the last day and I didn’t want to leave early. I wanted to soak in every detail of the room – the high ceiling, the walls, the floor, the statue at the end of the hall.

As I submitted the paper and left the building, I turned around. Was this the end of my European dream? I don’t know. I would like to think that the future is made up of blank pages, waiting to be filled with other tales and experiences yet to be written.

But one thing’s for sure – I’ve got a pen.


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