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….
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.
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 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cpNTArPhBM
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)
THE LINK OF THE PRE MATCH PROGRAM
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.
AND WE ARE GOING TO SCREAM TOGETHER TOMORROW. KB, KBF, KBFC, OLE
To be continued…………..