Grandpa Tales : Descendant reveals untold stories on Gostha Paul, the Chinese Wall of India


“In 1928, Musa had fouled Gostha Paul in a Durand Cup match and broke his hand. Later that year, Tulsi Das, who used to play for Aryans, pulled up Musa and proudly proclaimed that this was the revenge for what Musa did to Gostha Paul.”

Well, the above is just an example of the aura of the name Gostha Paul, popularly known as the Chinese Wall of India. There goes many legends about this person who believed, “Football was the only arena where the Indians could compete with the Britishers” and his life reflects this belief by and large. We have recently got the chance to talk to Girbban Paul, the grandson of the legend and in an exclusive and close interview, he told us many untold stories of Gostha Paul.

According to Girbban, the discovery of a 16 year old Gostha Paul itself is an inspiring tale for sports lovers across the world. In 1912, after the illustrious IFA Shield win, Mohun Bagan visited Bhagyakul, a small town in Bangladesh where Gostha’s maternal grandparents used to live. Their center-half Rajen Sen noticed Gostha, a strong young guy playing for the local team. Impressed, he told him right away to meet in Calcutta if he wanted to play for Mohun Bagan. Gostha felt that it was some kind of a joke and chose to ignore it. After a couple of months, when Sen by chance met Gostha at Kumartuli, asked him to meet him at the Mohun Bagan ground and this time, he could not ignore.

However, Gostha’s journey hit a low in the very beginning. He failed miserably in the friendly matches and during the practice, people started whispering about Rajen Sen’s decision. Naturally, it came of as a big surprise when, much to the chagrin of the rest, Rajen Sen and Bhuti Sukul got Gostha in the starting line-up against Black Watch FC in the first match of the season. Thus began a career which continued till 1935 for Mohun Bagan and it was a success story ever after.

    Gostha Paul used to play cards on his own. (photo shared by Girbban Paul)
Gostha Paul used to play cards on his own. (photo shared by Girbban Paul)

Gostha Paul became the captain of Mohun Bagan in 1921 and three years later, was honored with the captaincy of the national team. Having said that “here is not an iota of doubt that he was the unequivocal leader”, Girbban recounted one particular story of Gostha’s leadership. Those days often the referees’ decision went against the local clubs and the worst example was seen in a Mohun Bagan match against arch-rivals Calcutta CFC. The referee blew the whistle whenever Mohun Bagan moved to the penalty box of the opponent. An agitated Gostha sat down on the field in protest and soon the entire team joined him, causing an immediate end to the game. Girbban says, “There was a lot of brouhaha at IFA because of the incident…a section of the IFA wanted to pass a resolution against Gostha Paul.” The man himself, not to let Mohun Bagan bear the brunt of this incident, announced his retirement from the game soon after this.

Much similar to the previous story, Gostha Paul always took a stand against the British. Karuna Bhattacharya once said that in the prestigious annual clash between the Indians and Europeans, ‘Gostha Babu was ekai eksho’ (one showed the resilience of hundred). The legendary footballer once even hit a British footballer at his abdomen with the ball when he intentionally trampled on Karuna’s feet. “I think that sums up why someone to have not won a single football tournament went on to be so respected by his peers and the public in general,”  told Girbban Paul, the descendant of the great footballer.

That he was revered by all persons alike, once caused a funny incident involving his mother, Nabin Kishori Debi. While traveling to Calcutta, at a station she was taken aside for interrogation by the soldiers of East Pakistan. When the officer found a photo of Gostha in her trunk, they asked why it was here. And as soon as they knew that she is Gostha’s mother, their reactions drastically changed. The officers sought forgiveness, got a new lock, bought the tickets for the lady and arranged for a window seat as well. By this time, Nabin Kishori Debi was shell-shocked. After meeting her son at Sealdah station, she narrated the incident and asked what he does for living. A smiling Gostha humbly told her, “Kisui na… shudhu ball-e laathai (Nothing much… just kick around the ball)”.

The grandson also revealed personal stories about the legend and the above-mentioned simplicity and humility is everywhere in Gostha’s life. According to Girbban, he was always in Dhoti, Kurta and Shoes. He loved his big bowl of Masoor Dal and milk. Mangoes and Hilsa were his favourites too. Post his retirement, Gostha used to play cards on his own.

Eminent novelist Tarashankar Bandopadhyay once told a story of Gostha Paul’s simplicity. When both of them were chosen to receive Padma Shri, the instructions said that they have to wear Bandhgala and chost. But Gostha refused to abide by this and wrote to the ADC about his inability to get the Bandhgala stitched. The ADC wrote back, “The President will be happy to see you whichever way you choose to come”. On April 27, 1962, Gostha received the Padma Shri from Rajendra Prasad in a Dhoti and Kurta.

    Gostha Paul also acted in a movie. (photo shared by Girbban Paul)
Gostha Paul also acted in a movie. (photo shared by Girbban Paul)

Gostha Paul was an all-rounder and apart from Football, he played Cricket, Tennis and Hockey for Mohun Bagan. Girbban told us an enthralling cricket story of the legend. Once Gostha was late for a cricket match against the Calcutta Club and had to get down to play with Shirt above a dhoti. No one complained in the beginning. However, the opponents lodged a protest about his attire when he came down to bowl and took 2 wickets in 4 balls of the over. The match stopped then and there and for 6 years, the teams never played cricket against each other.

He was brilliant in hockey too. Jaipal Singh Munda, the captain of gold-winning 1928 Olympics hockey team of India, hailed Gostha as the finest full back who ever partnered him and expressed regret that Gostha didn’t play hockey that too often.

And after knowing all these stories, you would think the talent cannot go any further. Well, when it comes to Gostha Paul, it knows no bound. Few know that the extraordinary sportsperson also acted in a movie, Gouri Shankar. Gostha played the role of a dacoit, who reformed and turned a messiah. This 1932 film was scripted and Directed by Ananda Mohan Roy, produced by National Film Syndicate, and it starred Radhikananda Mukhopadhyay, Keshab Bhattacharya, Dolly Dutta, Ayesha Bai and Gostha Paul.

Gostha Paul was, is and will always remain an inspiration for every Indian. Hope you enjoyed all these fascinating stories of this legend. We thank Girbban Paul a ton and we will come back soon with another related and captivating article, where you’d know about the effect of a legendary grandfather on Girbban himself.


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