Sometime in 1984, at the newly opened GD Birla Sabhagar in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Alyque Padamsee has brought his stage production of Evita to town, with Sharon Prabhakar in the title role. I attend, with my brother and father, and, sitting in the fourth row, centre, am mesmerized for the next 2 hours. Sharon is easy on the eye and ear but it’s the actor playing Che Guevara, all snarls and snide remarks, who really holds the imagination. Much later I read that Dalip Tahil, the regular actor, was unwell that day and was replaced, at the last moment, by the show’s choreographer, Shiamak Davar.

The next 30 years, anytime and across India. I play the cassette (or record or CD) of Evita incessantly to the despair of family; I memorize the lyrics, as I do every note of every song to be played on air guitar, piano and drums. And, of course, all the moves.

June 2014, Buenos Aires and Rosario. I expand a trip to Brazil to watch the world cup to include Argentina; ostensibly for Lionel Messi, but I know the real reason.


Evita’s office is more modestly furnished than the rest of the presidential palace

Such an eventful life will have its shades of grey, and the musical used Che Guevara—a somewhat contemporary fellow Argentinian—as the conscience or, in Padamsee’s version, the sutradhar. She has the limelight but he has the lines, a caustic, barbed commentator on her rise. They probably never met in real life but their pas de deux, culminating in a farewell waltz, is the play’s leitmotif.

The canvas, of course, is Buenos Aires, the city Eva moves to with such hope and expectation in the 1930s. It was, by all accounts, a stunning city at the time, the Paris of South America, packed with French architecture. Eva is instantly in thrall to the pleasures and possibilities of Buenos Aires and in the eponymous song Rice puts that excitement into words:

Rio de la Plata! Florida! Corrientes! Nueve de Julio!

All I want to know!

Stand back, Buenos Aires!

Because you oughta know whatcha gonna get in me --

Just a little touch of star quality!


The health ministry building has a mural of Evita at the microphone
The health ministry building has a mural of Evita at the microphone

It wouldn’t be uncharitable to say Buenos Aires is stuck in a time warp. I had landed at an airport that is definitely circa 1980s; the men have that wavy collar-length hair. The forex counter has that slightly forbidding air left over from the 20th century. The radio in the cab plays Sinatra-esque schmaltz, the kind Eva would have sung. The buildings in the city centre are mainly the grand mansions of the art deco era; the restaurants have the finest beef you can get, but don’t look for anything more modern than steak or grilled. Buenos Aires doesn’t do edgy.

But I’m not here for edgy, I’m here for Evita. Down the road from Florida and Nueve de Julio is the Casa Rosada, where the stories of Eva Perón and Evita merge. It’s here, on the famous balcony, that Evita had her finest 5 minutes singing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, her high-pitched address to her people after Perón’s election as president.

And it’s here that the hair on the back of the neck stands on end. We visit the Plaza de Mayo, the square in front of the Casa Rosada, on National Flag Day (20 June), a hugely emotional occasion commemorating the first time the bandera albiceleste was raised in the 19th century.

The noise permeates into the Casa Rosada, which is currently the office of the country’s president. Entry is free but, once inside and done with the busts and paintings of South American heroes in the entrance hall, we queue up for the guided tour and access to the inner rooms and upper floors.

This was where Perón ran his government and where Evita sat and plotted, and pleaded for an official role in government. It has the formal trappings of state power, complete with a mega desk and large cabinet table; Evita’s own office, a few rooms away, has been mothballed, and includes a red polka-dotted dress and a more modest desk.

Not everyone was in thrall to her, of course. In that crowd in the musical is Che, who strikes a note of dissent (before the heavies appear to shush him up). Up in the palace, around the corner from the balcony, is a corridor with a large portrait of Evita; as we watched, a young man posed for a picture in front of the portrait—with a two-fingered salute.

Later that day, something stranger happens: At the end of a cab ride I take out a 100-peso (around 740) note; the cabbie returns it with protestations that are lost in translation. I (thinking it’s one of the fakes we’ve been warned about) take out another; same reaction. Then it dawns on me: These notes have Eva Perón’s face. I change the notes and he accepts them with a smile.

Jayaditya Gupta is the executive editor of Espncricinfo and a columnist for Mint.