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….