In cricket-crazy India, fans mourn ‘our god’ Diego Maradona

Kerala state declares two-day official mourning while fans in Kolkata – a hub of football that Maradona visited in 2017, pay tribute.

A man pays his respects in front of a statue of Argentina's Diego Maradona in Kolkata [Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP]

Even in the land of cricket, Diego Maradona’s death came as such a shock that one Indian state declared two days of official mourning and fans flocked to a hotel room where the football legend once slept.

The Argentinian footballer, who died on Wednesday at the age of 60, is so revered in Kerala state that even the shells from some prawns he ate during his visit in 2012 have been freeze-dried and framed.

A steady stream of fans and journalists went to the Hotel Blue Nile in Kannur to leave tributes as the state government ordered the mourning period and a local musician sang a mournful tribute to the footballer on television channels.

Hotel owner Ravindran Veleimbra recalled the day when Maradona entered the lobby. “Our god had walked in. He was in front of us,” he told AFP.

Maradona’s visit brought chaos to the southern state, which bucks the trend in India by preferring football to cricket.

Veleimbra remembered how hordes of fans wearing Argentina’s blue and white shirts packed the road outside, some having travelled hundreds of kilometres in cars, buses and on bikes. Thousands more packed a local stadium.

Everything Maradona touched in room 309 has been preserved, the owner said.

Municipal workers clean a statue of Argentina’s Diego Maradona in Kolkata [Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP]

“We have saved the cutlery, toiletries and even the bouquet that we gave him. The flowers have dried but it’s all framed.”

The prawn shells that were part of the salad he ate are also displayed, along with footballs and a menu the World Cup hero signed.

‘Time for tears’

“People ask us specifically for a stay at the Maradona room. Everything that he touched is still intact and his fans want to experience that.”

Veleimbra said he would now set up a Maradona statue. “It’s a day of mourning for us. He hugged me while he was leaving and to this day I can feel him around.”

The Argentinian legend visited India’s communist-ruled Kerala state in 2012 [File: AFP]

Fans also headed to a Maradona statue in the eastern city of Kolkata that is also known as a football holdout.

The Argentinian superstar went to the eastern city of 15 million people in 2017 to unveil the 12-foot (3.6-metre) tall statue showing him wielding the World Cup, which he won in 1986.

Fans left flowers and messages at the foot of the bronze statue, which stands on a road leading to Kolkata’s airport.

“It’s the time for tears. He will always be in our hearts,” said a West Bengal State Minister Sujit Bose, who was amongst those to pay tribute.

Members of Kolkata’s Argentina Fan Club planned a vigil later in the day to recall his two visits to the city. On Maradona’s first visit in 2008, nearly 50,000 people waited outside the airport hoping to get a glimpse.

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar both paid tribute, while India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Maradona was “a maestro of football” whose “untimely demise has saddened us all”.