Tulsidas Balaram, one of the country’s finest footballers and a member of the golden era of Indian football (1951-1962), passed away due to multiple organ failures in Kolkata on February 16. He was 87. Last month, he was admitted to the Apollo Hospital in Kolkata, his adopted home since 1957, due to low dietary intake and abdominal distension. His condition deteriorated since and he was in ICU.
In 2021, he had a blood clot removed from his brain.
Balaram, originally Balaraman, played in two Olympics in 1956 and 1960 and reached the pinnacle of Asian football when India, under the guidance of legendary coach Syed Abdul Rahim, won the Asian Games gold in Jakarta, beating South Korea 2-1 in 1962.
In the Rome Olympics, widely hailed as his best moment in international football, he scored twice against Hungary and Peru.
These were Balaram’s best years on the field, and from 1956 to 1962, he was considered the finest attacking player in India and even Asia. He was part of an invincible trident – the other two were Chuni Goswami and Pradeep Kumar Banerjee – who helped Indian football reach its pinnacle.
Both PK and Chuni are no more.
During this time, Balaram participated in two Asian Games, in Tokyo in 1958 and in Jakarta in 1962. The gold medal that the team won in Jakarta is India’s only success in any international tournament to date.
His career was acutely brief, spanning eight years between 1955 and 1963, and was cut short by tuberculosis at 27. But on the field, he ripped through the toughest defensive ploys on the football field with effortless ease.
Born on October 4 1936, to Tamil parents – Muthamma and Tulsidas Kalidas – in Ammuguda village in the garrison town of Secunderabad, Balaram scored 131 goals, including 14 for India, across seven seasons.
Many of those goals gained legendary status, like the one against Kidderpore in only his second match for East Bengal in the 1957 Calcutta First Division League.
Balaram, who learned football wearing heavy leather military boots in his village, could accelerate, decelerate or pivot in a flash. He could control the ball with either foot. He was equally brilliant in set pieces.