Mob menality kashmir


Weirdly, I wake up to the cold Punjabi morning and feel very positive. Like I am getting this warm hug from someone or something. The news is not good, the body count has reached 40. Things don’t look good. But I put on my layers and change into my boots. Now the temperature is really getting to me. There are these two Punjabi mothers and their kids with me in my section of the compartment. We don’t talk but acknowledge each others presence. They feel reluctant to talk when my instinctive reply doesn’t come in Hindi. They look like good people. I help them get their luggage out of the train near Jalandhar. A bit of good karma never hurts.
I lose the signal on my phone after Pathankot. You know what that means, I have crossed over to the boundaries of the great state of Jammu and Kashmir. Now some of my constitutional rights are suspended, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act enforced upon me and this meant that some of the things which I took for granted as a citizen of India is now questionable. Starting with countrywide roaming cell service.
For the first time in my life, a train in India reaches the station exactly on time. I get off and have this flashback to another part of the country – Siligui in West Bengal. This station feels so much like Sili for some reason. The weather, the terrain and most importantly, as the last bastion of railroad upon an imposing Himalayan range. 
I scout the station. That is the first thing you should do. Get your bearings straight. There will always be the autowallas (auto drivers) willing to offer life advice to you. But don’t heed. Explore what all option the station has. Waiting room (check), ATM (check), Wifi (check), charging ports (check). This meant that I could set up camp in the station if I want to. I usually do this every time I go to an airport or a railway station where I might have to spend the night. There is a real possibility that I might have to spend the night at the station since Hilal Ikka told me that Jammu was on bandh (Strike). Which meant the chances of finding transportation to Sri Nagar was going to be difficult. Once I had my contingency plan sorted, I started to explore the station. The next priority was to get a SIM card. There was a store right outside the place. It looked shady as the shutter was half open and they were selling nuts and spices inside, but SIM cards outside. It took 20 minutes but I had a number. First call – Amma. Second call – Hilal Ikka. 
“Ikka, I am royally stuck, no transportation whatsoever. I might need to spend the night here and try coming tomorrow morning.”
That was a possibility which I didn’t want to exercise, I would be losing a lot of time if I were to do that. But you have to be prepared for the worst too, and also expect the best. It’s imperative you don’t get negative. I will explain just why.
Hilal Ikka told me to go to the bus station and see if there are any buses. I was kind of reluctant to venture out on a bandh day and I stalled on that idea.
So, I eat some kachoris and channa and I am pretty much vagabonding around, persistently asking if there is a way, any way to get there. One dude suggests I walk to Sri Nagar. We laugh it off. 
I am a believer in the law of attraction. They say, you are the energy that you attract. This principle came into play when I saw a group of Kashmiri dudes. There must have been like 10 of them sitting with their luggage not knowing what to do just like me. I open in Hindi, “Gaddi hai kya? To Banihal Abhi?” The dude asks me to come sit down next to him. He asks me if I am comfortable in English. (Finally a North Indian who doesn’t condescend my lack of fluency in Hindi.) 
This small gesture, where he asks me to sit down next to him set in motion a series of events after which I don’t think I will look at people the same way ever again. 
This is the important part. Saying hi to a stranger. The most amazing acts of kindness and the most rewarding experiences I have ever had with a human being came out of saying Hi to a stranger. So I cant stress how imperative it is, if you want to have an adventure of a lifetime. 
Go to some strange land, just prepared enough to know when you are getting there and when you are going back and let out a 100 watt smile and say hello.
That is how I met my first Kashmiri brother. (Trust me, I have a lot of brothers after this trip.) His name is Showkath. (He has this uncanny resemblance to my mate Madhav from high school. Madav, if you are reading this, sup yo? ) 
He asks me to put my luggage down and ease into the lethargy of a bandh day. They were as stuck as me. They wanted to get to Sri and they also didn’t know how. I learnt that most of them were graduate students from Bhopal university and they are returning back after their exams. All of them, luckily for me spoke great English. 
We get acquainted, and they tell me to join them and decided to go to Sri together. I was elated.
When the situation is fucked, and you been dealt a bad hand, it’s important that you keep your head up and remain positive. The travel gods will shine a light on you. This has happened to me so many times that I can’t call it a coincidence anymore. The travel gods are real and all they want is to see you respect chance. Once you do that, the chances of something like this happening is exponentially high. 
So now I am at ease, I have my tribe and we will go together to Sri. I open up my bag of Tamil savouries and we eat up some Kadala Burfi. I slowly doze off on top of our luggage.
I forgot to tell you that the internet was blocked in Jammu due to the bandh. The government wants to stop all forms of social media and messaging apps from spreading news (real or fake) and wreaking havoc. So I had no clue about what was happening. When I woke up the mood has changed. The tension was palpable. I ask them what’s up and they reply rather nonchalantly that everything is fine. But I knew something was up.
All of them start getting the phone calls, they are getting angry and frustrated. Both at the calls and at each other. A group of slightly senior Kashmiris split away from us. A lot more beedis and cigarettes are lit than usual. The indecision makes me frustrated, but I have no clue what the fuck is happening. So I just look at them and try to make sense of what’s happening. Hilal Ikka calls me around this time and tells me not to go anywhere near the bus stand. That had become the epicentre of the violence and the mobs were targeting the people trying to get to Kashmir. 
I felt like I had dodged a bullet. Now I start to comprehend, there is violence on the streets, aimed at Kashmiris. That is why these guys were getting tensed. Their safety was at stake. From getting some sun on the pavement, the situation pivoted into an escape mission, from which the Kashmiri’s perspective would look like an ethnic cleansing (that word carries a lot of responsibility while using it, and there are various degrees to the evil that has been associated with that word, but when I was with them, that is exactly what I felt it was. A certain community targeted and an evil which wanted to see them disappear.) 
After some more squabbling over what to do, we decide to make a move for it. We pack up and move. They told me that we had to get out of Jammu. I still didn’t know exactly what the plan was and I didn’t press them cause it felt like they weren’t too sure themselves. At this point, you have to trust them at face value. I personally think I trust people very easily. It has given me memories to cherish for life and has also got my brand new phone stolen. But I listened to my instincts and decided to go with these guys and trust them. The gut is better at judging people than drunk me.  ( That Russia story is coming soon.)
This is when the mob incident happens. It looked like a candlelight march, but also had nationalist slogans being raised. It was to honour the martyrs, but when the individual loses his identity in the crowd, anything can happen. And it was happening around Jammu.
Right now, mobs in this country terrify me. Lynchistan is the term used to describe organised violence by mobs where the law or what they perceive as natural justice is taken into the hands of vigilantes and exercised with no restrains. Usually on a minority community. And Jammu is very much a part of Lynchistan. 
One PHD scholar from my college is also on the list of victims. Guess I don’t have to go really far to fear my own safety.
To be continued…….


Full disclosure 
I hadn’t told my parents I was going to Kashmir (Remember rule 15 from 15 life lessons from cycling uphill). I did say that I might go, way back in December, but they didn’t pay too much attention to that (surprisingly).
But the main problem was that I was doing this in the middle of the semester. I just couldn’t fit the football schedule around my vacations and if I were to make the trip, I needed to do it now. Cause Real Kashmir was in the title race and if they won, it would be a pivotal moment both football wise and socially for the whole country. I absolutely needed to be there. It was like a biological urge that makes you perform life functions. The cost would probably be this semester. But I was willing to pay that price. Cause honestly, I know I have more value to gain and more value to give outside the walls of the classroom of the Humanities and Social Sciences department here. Even if I go to class, I will be staring at that door, thinking what a wonderful world there is outside to explore, while my mind was sedated with class. But no disrespect to the amazing people who spend their entire lives learning a discipline and becoming amazingly competent at it. For most people that environment is conducive. Unfortunately, I am not most people. This is my personal opinion, and by no means should it be interpreted as an insult to the department. But honestly, that place sucks :p
Imagine explaining all this to your parents.
I thought I would reach Delhi and break the news about Kashmir so that they would stress for one day less than they have to. 
I was so wrong. 
I take the call.
“Where are you?” 
It’s the instinctive maternal tone of enquiry a mother has towards her baby whenever something bad happens in the world. I lose my voice, I say I am on a train, near Delhi and I am moving towards Jammu. 
(I just realised being my parents is a really stressful job. They don’t get enough credit for that.)
She wasn’t happy. She couldn’t wrap her head around why I would want to go to Jammu. The moment I said football, she was like “not again”. Of all the drugs that the great god has created in bounty for us on earth, football is the most potent one. She knows her son is a junkie on that and his decision-making skills are questionable whenever a game of football is being played. 
She was still very upset, she asked me what I was going to do about classes. As a bandage of an answer I said I would fake a medical certificate and try to get by, but both of us knew that was not happening. 
She asked me what should she tell Achan. She told me to tell him. I can waltz into a war zone, but the former was something I really didn’t want to do. I expected her to ask me to get off at the next station and come back asap. I really did. But she didn’t. We need to take a trip down memory lane for that.
I think I was in second standard. Amma sent me to get some meds from the local pharmacy. It was like 30 meters away from my house. But it was closed. So I came back empty-handed.
Then she told me something which I would remember in that moment of doubt in Andaman express. She told me, if you go out to get something or set out to do something, don’t come back until its done, until the mission is accomplished. She probably won’t remember it. But little Yadu was pissed and he walked all the way to Palarivattom cursing his luck cause he was running an errand at 5:30 pm, when Pokemon was on Cartoon Network. It didn’t make sense then, but the impression it left on that little kid subconsciously made me think; Well, you have travelled halfway across the country. Why stop now? 
What gave me the courage to not turn back was Amma. She didn’t contradict herself from all those years ago. She knew I was going there to do something. If she had asked me to turn back now, my entire childhood paradigm would have been compromised. But she didn’t do that. She told, “Go carefully. You know how to take care of yourself. Call me every day and update all your moves and please go back to class as soon as you can.”
Those are what I call values. These foundations of thought and conduct which have been imprinted in your subconscious that tells you what to do. Even when you have no idea what you are doing. I like to believe that my parents have given me great values to work with. You can disagree with me on that, I don’t mind. 
From nadir to a ray of hope, Amma changed the entire dynamic of that difficult situation. I respect her and love her so much for that. She was always the person who got things done in our family and having a strong woman with conviction around you while growing up really helps you in a situation like this. 

Thank you Amma.

After that I get calls and messages from a lot of my mates asking me to come back, or to be careful. I absolutely love all of you guys and I am so thankful for your concern. My answer to all this however was, I am going forward with the trip. I will get to Jammu and see how the situation is and make a decision there. 
Hizrat Nizzamudhin passed by. I knew I had passed the point of no return and in the process, proved to myself just how much I wanted this. 
Good night. 
To be continued………


 The long sleep 
I pack up my stuff, borrowing things I don’t have from my mates. Went around to get munchies for the Kashmiri mates I’d be meeting. I get Kadala burfi (peanut candy), banana chips and then kara boondi ( perfect touchings) for Muzi and Hilal Ikka. Hilal Ikka also asked for some dry fish and after searching in and around IITM campus for hours, I finally found the last two packets within the 4-mile radius of IITM. (I feel like a winner now) 
I started packing, charging all my electronics and I also borrowed a DSLR camera from a friend. I check my list and I am kind of set. 
I say goodbye to all my mates and I make my mate Mikey a promise – “I will make the Kashmiri fans chant for Alaknanda.” Alaknanda (my hostel) had this really important game against Jamuna (another hostel) where we were in the last chance saloon. If we didn’t win, we were out. 
With the symbolic last supper of chicken Ankara kebab and 3 Kerala porattas from Zaitoon, I am off to Decathlon to say goodbye to my mates there. I collect the jacket and my mate Madhoo drops me off in Central station. The last goodbye in Chennai and I am sitting on the floor of platform number 1. Waiting for the PSG game to start. 
Then a dastardly attack by heavily armed aerial forces left me stunned. They dropped the payload in one fine stealthy swoop, completely catching me unaware. The payload fell on my camera bag, exploding into this slushy, stinky ooze which went inside the honeycomb of the bag’s support. I can’t get the shit out from there. A pigeon targeting me with an ordinance like a laser guided bomb might not have seemed like a coincidence then, but it was a sign of things to come.
( This was written before the dogfights between the Indian and Pakistani airforces, And no, I am not a psychic)
United lost two important players in the first half and lost the game 2 nil. The trip was not off to a great start. 
The train comes, S7 21. I put my head down and I am gone.  
I woke up some time past noon with a bad taste in my mouth (no it was not the pigeon shit). This was United’s first defeat under Ole Gunnar Solksjar and I didn’t like that feeling at all. But it was inevitable. 

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.

This cycle of reading to sleep and sleeping to kill time and finally not being able to sleep at night culminated in me deciding never to travel such a long distance by train again. Like many people who have travelled the Trans-Siberian rail says, it loses it’s romanticism fast and turns into an ordeal which you try to get over as soon as you can. And I being in the top berth for 80% of the time, didn’t see any “sights”.
“Some people just like to watch the world burn” 
The internet connection on the phone was good. I was listening to music throughout. Then my browser pops up with a news alert. 
Remember that feeling in school when you don’t know the answer to a question the teacher asks, and she is scanning the class to see who she should ask it. You are there, with your eyes moving all over the place, but never making contact with hers. Your tongue feels these spikes of bitterness from the adrenaline assaulting your bloodstream and you start sweating as your hands become red. Then you feel like throwing up that day’s breakfast and you are holding in a fart through the sheer force of will, the likes of Shaolin monks balancing a stone between their legs. Then there is a chill running through you which makes your nipples get hard and your hairs stand up. The fight or flight response mode has been initiated by the reptilian part of your brain. 

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. 

 “Suicide bomber targets convoy of CRPF jawans in Jammu-Sri Nagar highway. 23 killed. More casualties expected.” 
This was past Bhopal. The news came around 5 pm. At least no one lost their lives in Mary miss’s class. Now I was literally heading right towards the epicentre of the worst terror attack in recent memory at a speed of 90 km/h. Remember the bad omen I was talking about. It was leading up to this.
Slowly the news permeates across the train. People start talking, and with my limited Hindi, I could understand that everyone was talking about this. I was getting more and more restless. I started receiving messages. 
“Bro, did you hear the news?” 
Everyone was concerned. I messaged Hilal Ikka. For the first time, he sounded incomprehensible. Not knowing what to express, I asked him for news. His being in the department of communication for the J&K government meant that he received news faster than the rest of us. He forwarded to me the pictures from the site. 

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. 

I concluded a few things.
  1. My safety was in danger if I go forward with the trip.
  2. It’s not going to be status quo in Kashmir.
  3. The chances of the game getting cancelled were exponentially high.
  4. I should call Amma.         
And just like that, the call comes. 
To be continued…..







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. 


Rajappan and Sharanya in Gulmarg.



Real Kashmir


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. 


Shifting gears

 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….


In football and in life, there will come few crucial moments where if you make the right move, you will be serenaded in unbridled joy, rewarded with all the jubilation you could wish for and feel like you are the epicentre of all the happiness in the world.

If you hesitate at that moment, take a step back or just fuck it up completely, all that greatness turns into a whirlpool of regret that is pulling you into this tumultuous foray of “could have been” territory.

May it be that night on Marina beach where I should have gone for the kiss or this Monday night in Kochi where CK Vineeth should have taken a shot. Regret is a dye which takes a lot of washing over to remove. And that is what most KBFC fans were left feeling. A rotten sense of regret at chances not taken and that feeling of being deflated after such an immense build-up, to what was labeled as “the game of the season”.

Plus fuck, I have to get back to save my semester by rushing into class the next morning before the instructor arrives. ( #didnthappen)

48 hours before kickoff

Three brave souls from the bohemian hostel chain to the rim of Taramani gate took on this adventure to a place far far away that we like to call – home.

Destination- Kochi

Mode of transport- unknown.

Plan was I and Navus would share a berth that he got on a Tatkal, but at the last possible moment, he tells me its on waiting list. So we had to take a detour from destination fucked and look at other options. Mikey had no intentions of going home until I saw him at the chai joint and asked him if he is willing to partake in this crusade to defend the home land from the invaders from the North, and also eat beef. Yah, eat shit loads of beef. ( Which ironically is the one thing we couldn’t do.)

Mikey had to download his bowl and after a 15 minute delay we are on a bus, then a metro, and then on foot until we reached Koyambedu bus terminus. The centre of Chennai for anyone who is not from Chennai. ( Yah there is central station too, but then the nomenclature is just too perfect, isn’t it). Just in time to stream KBFC vs Pune on Navus’s phone. Pune scored and we were left frustrated at our defending as well as the criminally bad network Jio was offering inside the bus terminus. An over priced fried rice later, Kerala equalises with Nikola Krčmarević, ( Yes, I copied pasted that.) I shouted as soon as I heard the news. The homeless guy sleeping to our right curses his luck that his sleep was interrupted by 3 guys who he thought couldn’t understand the swearing he was aiming at us , unfortunately for him. Swearing was my Tamil 101 during first year.

Our plan was to go vagabonding till we cross the border. Saw the first Coimbatore bus and we are fortunate enough to find the last 3 seats unreserved for us. ( Only if KBFC had that sorta luck in front of goal.) The trip to Kovai was uneventful, other than the fact that a virus had infected us. See, this has been going on for a while, but this virus consummated in us listening to it through the night. It’s a Malayalam song that we deserve, but not the one we need right now. I will leave the link below. See for yourself.

Pri song –

With that pathogen making our immune system palpable to musical inspiration of that nature. We started coming up with chants for the game on Monday. Usually by changing a word or two in a Malayalam song and replacing it with a players name or the name of the club. It works. Trust me, most club chants are either nursery rhymes or choir songs. All the bards and wordsmiths from the stands take inspiration from Blah blah black sheep and glory glory hallelujah.





















































































Next morning and we are breathing in the Kovai air which has 60% less particulate matter than Chennai. Again a quick download by Mikey and we are on a bus to Thrissur. And a quick bite of the most flaccid “ pazhampozhi” that I have seen in my life and we are en route to where the magic happens – Kochi.

A journey which should have taken 13 hours takes 20. That’s why kids, always book tickets before hand. I turn on the AC and hit the bed. I have work this evening, don’t I ?

24 hours before kickoff

I trace back the alleys which I used to cycle through when I was a child. “Those were the day, when hard work forever pays, now I see you in a better place.”

Okay chuck that sentence, rap lyrics don’t make sense there. But I know to get to the stadium through a narrow alley way that most people don’t know, unless they grew up behind the stadium like me. I was so fortunate to grow up there, but unfortunate that there wasn’t any football being played inside around the time I got into the game. But that has changed now and I text my mate Manu. He told me come around 4 30 ish and we can talk.

So Manu is a key character in this story. We go back to the time I was studying in Bharat Mata College, Thrikkakara. The only class room where I walked in with a smile every morning. ( Over the course of a long duration, that was the best atmosphere and the best people I have had the honour of spending time with). Manu and I shared a lot of passions. We were both lovers of football, and I mean proper football. I mean premier league football. I mean Arsenal and Man Utd respectively. He was also a very good bowler and was in the college cricket team. He is the sort of guy you knew would follow his passion and be successful at it. And when KBFC came, he was a really key figure in the Manjappada ( KBFC fan Club) activities. Around that time, I was marshalling LFLC( Let’s football let’s cleanup) and we tried to co-op to a certain degree of success. After I left for Chennai, Manu was still leading the line in Kerala for the yellow army and making sure no away fan walks out of Kochi without booking an appointment with his Otolaryngologist ( I copied-pasted that too). Now he works with Wipro, watching matches when his bosses have left the office and making sure Manjappada’s message goes out far and wide.

So I waltz around Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium aka “The Yellow Fortress”. That childhood nostalgia comes back to wet them eyes again. From learning to cycle around this behemoth, to that evening walks with Achan when he used to work here, and trying to find a ground to play at 6 in the morning around the stadium before the land mafia started growing apartments around the place. This place has a lot of memories. And who can forget Sushant Mathew’s goal. Still better than an orgasm.

I find Manu, purposefully siting with his Manjappada mates. It’s been a long time since I have seen him. If I remember correct it was in season 3. He is a relic of a life that I gave up hoping for something better. I still don’t know if that was the right decision, but he was still the same person. Football, football and more football. That’s what the build of Martin Garrix’s next hits should be.

He guides me through the plans for the day. He said there was a dude from Star Sports coming to do an interview of Manjappada. Which meant I had to wait till I get to interview Manu for the blog. 
Survival of the richest. :p

The Manjappada’s chanting brigade was in song. There was a dude in a Guy Fawkes mask. And guess what, the match was on the 5th of November. I don’t think the Gunfire treason is the reason why he wears it, but it looks cool regardless. The social psychological theory says that when people lose their individual identity and together form a collective identity. People tend to do things which they otherwise wouldn’t, since the individual consequences get diluted in the collective anonymity of the crowd.
I’m overanalysing, the guy just wore a fucking mask. And he also had a drum with it. The kind of ones you see your church band playing. And the boys start singing the chants. All distinctively aimed at Bengaluru and West block.

A good one being “ As the blues go shaggin in”. The metronome is set by the drum and the chorus taken over by our mallu accented “shaggings”. Honestly, I see it like we are complementing them on their success in the sexual sphere ( which for all my Bengaluru mates who left Kochi, is true).

But the small band of brothers are putting out some good chants, my favourite being the Malayalam one – “ Manjappadanne, nammal onn anne”. It was unique and has a feel good, uplifting vibe to it. I had borrowed Achan’s iPad and was taking footage in that. That’s when the Star Sports dude and I met. His name is Athish and you probably would have seen him on the show “ Football United” on Star Sports. He is a really nice dude. And an Arsenal fan. These days, you have to be of a certain age to follow United or Arsenal unfortunately. He asked me if he can use my footage and I obliged, I was more than happy to share the passion of the greatest club on earth( Let’s not get ahead of ourselves Yadu).


Then I join in with the boys while chanting, that is why you came here man. For that moment of losing yourself in the atmosphere of supporting you club. I can’t wait till tomorrow, when this rehearsal will compound itself exponentially into an uproar that will constrict every hair follicle on the back of my neck making it stand up in salute at this expression of joy and passion for the beautiful game.

Something unexpected, Atish asks me if I am down for an interview. I was slightly reluctant as this is the first time in 2 years that I am in Kochi for a match. These Manjappada Machans come for more or less all the matches and if anyone’s voice deserves to be heard. It is these Machans. But Atish insisted and Manu was also sort of OK with it. And so I did the interview.

This was not the first time I was in front of the lens of a Star Sports Cam. I think in season 1 or 2, Leeza Mangaldas interviewed us for LFLC. ( She was and still is – “ a dream” Athish has footage of me saying that :p). Then ensued a series of questions and answers which I think I gobbled up and the end result ( at that point of time) was me, scratching my legs due to mosquito skirmishes and my grammar and articulation being as disorganised as United’s defence this season.

But the editor is a god who can make anyone look good, and the final product came out really well. Nothing too funny or embarrassing ( Other than my grammar, there is no Grammarly in real life Yadu)


And with that my pre-match reporting is over. I came over to interview Manu and ended up got being interviewed instead.

MANJAPPADA : “All that’s good about my state”

It literally translates to “ Yellow Army”. But all the North Indians narrating Star Sports can’t pronounce the “ Nja” properly. ( If you do, Porotta and beef deep fry on me) It was formed in 2014 when a dude named Subin Mathew from Alapuzha started a page for Kerala Blaster fans. Then the page got “ Malluised” when it’s name changed to Manjappada. The pioneering event was when the group welcomed the team at the airport. It grew from there and in season two where there were 50 Whatsapp groups across 14 districts and abroad, exchanging ideas and connecting fans from all strata of society. In Season two, there was also a protest against the poor player acquisition and mis-management of the team. Firmly letting the people who run the club know that it is their duty to keep the fans opinions also in check while running a club. The hierarchy is very well defined and Manu says anyone who is willing to work hard enough can get to the very top. All the top positions are refreshed every year democratically and each district has enough autonomy to bring innovation into creating the fan atmosphere. May it be making chants or designing choreos for match day.

The Manjappada stand came into being in season 3. Starting with flexes, then evolving into cloth based banners. And there are some really creative ones at that. (have a look)


The role model that Manjappada looks upto is an another set of fans who lie on the same wavelength on the visible spectrum of radiation as well on the same wavelength when it comes to passion and turning up in huge numbers . Borussia Dortmund fans. Dortmund has more than one ultra group ( Desperados, Unity) who make the Signal Igunda Park turn into the beehive that it is on match days.

We are a really really long way from that level of an atmosphere, but it always helps to keep the bar up very high.

This level of involvement from the fans didn’t go unrecognised. A tangible honour was awarded when the Indian sports honours awarded Manjappada with the title of “ Fan club of the year”.
Beating, guess who ? West Block Blues ( Bengaluru FC fan club).

When the stadium became Noah’s arc

August of 2018 would go down as the most testing and as well as the proudest moment in every Malayali’s life. When nature turned against us, flooding the state in unprecedented magnitude. We had nowhere to turn but ourselves. And there was only one question on our minds – What can I do to help?

I would have to say, everyone. Absolutely everyone, from the Government to pre-schoolers gave everything we could to help and the solidarity and the sense of oneness which that tragedy has brought to our lives is something which will be never forgotten. 

And the stadium became a rally point for the relief efforts where supplies were being collected and a helpline was set up to coordinate the rescue efforts. These are the moments that transcends football and we rise up to something above that. And a collective such as Manjappada gave a lot of people who were looking for a platform to join in to help, an option. And a great option at that.

One thing which makes Manjappada unique and which I believe is our biggest strength is the reach of the Mallu diaspora around the world. Let’s be honest, KBFC has the highest away support for any club in the country. Not because fans make the trip from Kerala to Delhi or Kolkata, but because the mallu diaspora which is spread across the country and the world makes sure everyone is down to watch a game. I believe it is the first time that a secular, apolitical entity has come to be, where every Mallu, from Russia to “Gelf” can stand behind something which we identify as one. And that oneness was used to great effect while collecting donations for the Chief ministers relief fund from across the world. Again, something which began from football, transcends all that at a time of crisis.

We would also like to thank our brothers in Chennai and Bengaluru who also contributed to the relief efforts during the floods in Kodagu and Kerala. And we want to you know, we always have your backs.

Rivals, not enemies.

This season’s first match commemorated the fishermen who were the first responders and the only assistance to the many people who got stuck in their houses when the grid failed. The armed forces were also commemorated and this is how, slowly the club and the fans are building a culture where it goes beyond football and is slowly trying to create a collective identity using the club. These small but significant gestures from the clubs side is crucial. This banner tells the story much better than I can.

The way in which the Indian blind football team was honoured is also an example of how football and the positive emotions and investments it creates can be used to further a socially relevant cause.

This is why I think why it is imperative to develop a fan culture where multifarious groups can stand behind a club as one and develop a better ingrained society where differences are celebrated and the “ us “ vs “them “ paradigm are not based on things which are not within our control like religion and ethnicity, but on something less communal like football. Class and caste unregarded, religion and region irrelevant. When you scream for the blasters, we all scream as one.



To be continued…………..