For the idiots spreading hate on the internet. That is all they have and that is all they have to lose.
The “other” is really not that different from us, to be honest. I have had the good fortune and privilege to go to Russia for the FIFA world cup and there I met many Pakistanis. They are just dudes like me. He likes Arsenal, I love United. He doesn’t like menthol cigarettes, I used to love menthol cigs. He studies in Pakistan’s top B-school in Karachi, I “study” in India’s top engineering college in Madras. We had more in common than I realised.
Thank you Amma.
The train ride was very mundane, to be honest. I slept, I read, I brushed (on some days) and the people near me kept changing. Over and over again. Only I was constant. I suppressed the urge to shit for 2 days. The thought of a railway compartment toilet makes my bowls go on indefinite strike. No matter how long it takes. (When I say I don’t give a shit, I mean it.)
Then the odd Hijra comes in every state. I always carry change for them. One episode of indecent exposure and another of touching without consent had left emotional scars in me and so, I always pay Rs 10 to have a nice interaction and receive a blessing. They are good people, if you give respect, trust me, you will get it back. Plus they always have a lot of change. If you want to break a 100, they are more than happy to help.
And then, of all the 42 students in class, she asks you the question. You stand up, trembling, without the courage to make eye contact. You are dead inside.Yeah, that’s called a panic attack.
I haven’t had one in a very long time. But when I saw that headline. It was Mary miss’s English class in 2nd standard all over again.
Convoluted mass of metals. Dismembered bodies. Splatters of blood and the burns from the blast. I haven’t seen a more gory image in a very long time. I instantly deleted it as I didn’t have the stomach to look at it again. That was the nadir. I pulled up my blanket over my head and went into limbo.
What an unfortunate event. What a shame.
- My safety was in danger if I go forward with the trip.
- It’s not going to be status quo in Kashmir.
- The chances of the game getting cancelled were exponentially high.
- I should call Amma.
….CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS EPISODE
I had quit decathlon in late November to focus on my Russian classes. So now, I am pretty much perpetually broke and if I tell my parents I am going to Kashmir in the middle of the semester, they will probably ask me to refund the semester fee and never come back.
So I thought out this ingenious plan were I would be making almost 500 rupees per day exercising. Yes you heard it right.
Read this article and you will realise how an insane idea can get you fit and also get you money. ( COMING SOON)
But that plan didn’t work out as my knees developed this acute pain every time I cycled over a long distance. This came as a result of the run against time trip to Sreehari kotta. I didn’t want to put my long term health at risk so I dropped the idea. Now I was broke and counter productively, came back fat after the December break. Not how I expected things to go.
But in early January, Akash gives me the number of a person he met in Kashmir. Akash told me that he was the guy I should talk to with regards to anything concerning Kashmir. His name is Hilal. I started calling him Hilal Ikka (brother in Malayalam). Cause, (trust me, you wont believe it, unless you see it for yourself) he speaks fluent Malayalam. No, not the “Ennik Malayalam korechu korechu ariyam” (the most rudimentary phrase in Malayalam that means ‘I know a little Malayalam’). But he talks like he’s lived there for a while, and with the infamous Thrissur accent. He is an enigma, and a person who will be a recurring character in this story. He might be the only Kashmiri who speaks fluent Malayalam. But you never know.
I call him up and we get acquainted and we develop this relationship where he would send me the weather, road and other relevant news for me from Kashmir. But most of it was about a landslide which killed 3 people and how incessant snow fall had cut off the highway. But he never hid anything from me, I respect him for that. He made me aware of the fact that getting there would be a bit of challenge and he didn’t sugar coat anything. This went on for a few weeks.
Then Dassapan comes into the picture. If you don’t know who that is. Check this out.
As I mentioned there, his insatiable appetite for adventure put some renewed energy in me. He was all in for the trip and even put out this story on Instagram claiming that we would do the trip in less than Rs 4000. Too good to be true? Let’s see.
But there comes a time in a man’s life where he has to prioritise himself and his family above all else and Das had to do that. I was really looking forward to going with him, but as fate would have it, I would be flying solo. But I can’t underplay the influence Das had on the trip. We were literally minutes away from booking a ticket for ourselves before I told him to not to come and to prioritise himself over the trip.
So Hilal Ikka suggested I get in contact with someone who was part of Real Kashmir’s fan club. At that point of time, there weren’t any pages on Instagram which identified itself as a fan club of RKFC. So I just went to Real Kashmir’s official page and I messaged up the first person who made a comment. It was a certain muzi_khan958. I just said Hi and a few days later I got a reply. We developed this habit of wishing each other well before every Kashmir game. And soon enough, Muzi offered to host me at his house when I made the trip. I was ecstatic at that point, I was dancing in the library bathroom when he said that. Now, I could get the authentic experience of staying in a Kashmiri household and could really immerse myself in the culture of the place and build relationships with real people. I was on cloud 9 at that point.
One last favour from Decathlon
Even at that point, I was still broke and had no clue what to do about the money. I was caught in this quandary as to how to make this happen. But like a divine omen, I get this message that almost 11k is credited in my account. Oh my God, this is the money I got once I sold the shares I had bought when I was in Decathlon. It took almost 2 months to process it, but the money couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. I was over the moon, it was like the universe telling me – “Yadu, you have to make this trip.” And I decided it was time to listen to the universe. Since I didn’t have enough money for a flight, I booked a train which treads 2800 Kms through 9 states, taking 60 hours for the journey. The longest train journey of my life. Train number 16032, Andaman Express. I think I was be the only passenger from the starting station to the end. Chennai central to Jammu Tawi. (Technically the last station is Vaishno Devi Katra, Tawi is two stations before that.)
And I booked my ticket.
When you book a ticket, it’s like making a statement to yourself, that you are committed 100% to this.
I booked my tickets in such a way that I would be able to watch UNITED vs PSG in the station and then get on the train and sleep it off. (Ironically, I didn’t wanna wake up after Di Maria walked out of Old Trafford with that grin on his face.)
So a few days before the game, I go meet my Periya Annan (Big brother) figure, Raja. He hates when I say this, but he was my boss at Decathlon. Luckily for me, he had gone to Kashmir just a week before. Decathlon was conducting this skiing workshop in Gulmargh, Kashmir and I was so lucky to get some much needed insights from Raja. The most relevant insight was that our SIMS (prepaid) wouldn’t work within the borders of Jammu and Kashmir. I didn’t know this till the very last minute or otherwise I would have converted my SIM to postpaid early on. That was a pointer which would help me save so much time. Decathlon and Raja were generous enough to lend me a down jacket and a fleece so that I wont die of hyperthermia. Decathlon is one family I can always go back to.
TO BE CONTINUED…..
In sha Allah.
First time I really gave some thought to this was when I was on a train from Thrissur to Ernakulam. A gentlemen to my left was calling his wife. She asked when he would get to ERS station. He said “6:30 inshallah”. I thought about that statement for the next half an hour. I knew what inshallah means – “God willingly.” But why would he say that when he is already in Aluva and it is almost certain that we will reach Ernakulam South station in the next half an hour?
At that point in my life, I had a conflicting relationship with god and organised religion. So I was very skeptical of that person’s statement and I pushed it aside as something very stupid.
Fast forward a few years.
I ask Irshad- “When do you think we will get to Kashmir?”
He replies – “Inshallah soon.”
It’s clear he doesn’t know the answer to that question. But that phrase “Inshallah”, derived from a Quranic command in Arabic now holds a whole different meaning. Our lives were not in our hands. There comes the threshold where chance and luck supersedes human will and we were at that point.
There was an angry mob out there looking for blood. According to my Kashmiri friends, a dozen Kashmiri vehicles were torched and 3 Kashmiris were killed in the aftermath of the Pulwama attacks in Jammu by mobs.
The closest article I could find to verify this was THIS. Credibility of source is up to your discretion.
An army truck with soldiers drove into the railway station, a turret with a machine gun scanning for any sort of trouble. This was the first time reality dawned upon me. I was in a war zone. Not my usual football trip. The mob raised nationalist chants at the vehicle, clearly expressing their solidarity with their slain martyrs from the day before. The vehicle moves in and the mob follows. I see the tri colour. I wanted to record it, but I felt scared. Scared of offending anyone in this minefield of emotion and thirst for vengeance which our country’s conscious was passing through. What looked like a candlelight vigil turned into an intimidating chanting mob very fast.
I saw my Kashmiri friends hide themselves inside the station, you could feel the electricity and tension in the air. They were genuinely scared for their lives. And for the first time in my life I saw the tri-colour; something which every Indian prides as a symbol of the values which make our country great, symbolic of courage, sacrifice, peace, truth, faith and chivalry; suddenly became a symbol of hate. Hate towards a group of people which we want to call our own, but we treat as outsiders. For the first time in my life, I felt my safety was at stake and it was in the hands of people who were waving the flag that had fought for the very freedom with which I was standing on.
Now, I understood the real meaning of Inshallah. There are just so many moments in life where you think you are the captain of your own destiny and then destiny does a U-turn on you and you realise – chance is something which is greater than all of us. And we should respect that.
At these moments, you realise why respecting chance is something which can help you.
Inshallah, keep me safe.
The whole idea for the trip came out of a chance encounter. Remember the time those two dudes who were cycling across India on two basic cycles came to Chennai and I hosted them in Alakananda hostel. It was the butterfly effect from that interaction which lead to the whole Kashmir episode.
Akash and Rahul were the most amazing people I had met in the last year. With two basic cycles, a shoestring budget, a thirst for adventure and a life philosophy of the ilk of Alexander Supertramp from the movie- Into the Wild (2007); these dudes gave me insights into their odyssey. (You can listen to their experiences here, in this podcast) And one part of the country which they would rate over everywhere else is Kashmir. I was surprised at that, cause at that point of time, I was very ignorant of Kashmir. A place which is dangerous and with people who might not be very welcoming to outsiders. (ie, what the news tells us about Kashmir and Kashmiris).
That caught my fancy and I let the idea simmer inside for a while. Then came the football. In December, I really wanted to visit Calicut to watch Gokulam Kerala FC play. Gokulam is an I-league (2nd division, if you consider ISL) team out of Kerala which was doing very well at that point of time. They were on the top half of the table, playing good football and with the way Kerala Blasters were, in such an abysmal situation, my thirst for entertaining football took me up North to Malabar country. That is when I proposed the idea to my mate Abhijith (Who is a Gokulam fan) that we will hit Kashmir in early Feb to support GKFC vs Real Kashmir. Which would be the reverse fixture of what we are watching right now. .
We didn’t lay any solid foundations for it, but it was like a manifesto point running through our minds. We wanted to do it, we promised to do it and we told others we will do it. But we had no clue how to.
( LIKE A TRUE POLITICIAN)
Slowly the obsession for the trip grew in me, and its zenith was when Adidas released this video.
I still cry every time I see that video. Cause it elucidates everything which I believe about football and what it can do. And I truly believed that an ostracised community and state can get better through football. Cause from all my travels, from Russia to Kolkata to anywhere else, when I meet people who love football, it’s like we have known each other for all our lives. Our shared experiences makes it easy to empathise with each other. And Kashmir is one subject where empathy comes at a premium for a lot of people. I thought for a second, if I could come here and do the story of what football means to the people of Kashmir. And just for a second, just for one second make us forget the politics, the violence and the acrimonious history of the place. Maybe just for one moment, make us all feel like we are part of this one giant family where the love for the game is our mystic river and we are all rowing through it, together as one.
That might have sounded like an idealist on cocaine, but I believe if anything can bring people who are so different together, and make this world less shitty for at least 90 minutes, then that is something powerful and I want to accentuate that.
That is my mission statement.
Get the story of football out of Kashmir. And tell it to you and maybe, just maybe, as the video states- ‘When you see Kashmir through the lens of football, you will see the real Kashmir.”
And there is alway a “but” before anything epic happens.
To be continued….