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ISL Diaries: Tale from the land of Tatas - Jamshedpur

Jamshedpur FC joins the ISL Bandwagon, football leaves a mark in Jharkhand

It was a full house at the JRD Tata Sports Complex, Jamshedpur, as the home team Jamshedpur FC took on FC Goa in the second last, and the most exciting league game. But this wasn’t the only time with a packed stadium, the debut season for Jamshedpur FC has seen full house in all of the eight games that the team played in the steel capital of the country.

The iconic JRD Tata Sports Complex, Jamshedpur (Photo: ISL)

It was an historic day when the team played its first match in Jamshedpur, a city whose foundations were laid by a visionary, who went on to build one of the largest and the most successful conglomerates of the world. And with Jamshedpur FC, TATAs ventured into the ever-growing professional football arena.

However, at no point we can call it as the first step of the TATA’s into Indian Football. The existence of the Tata Football Academy (TFA), which again is located in Jamshedpur, is an epitome of footballing excellence of the country. The academy has crafted and created some of the best footballing icons of the country, and even in this season of the Indian Super League (ISL), cadets of the TFA, shone the brightest amongst the lot.

Jamshedpur FC, is just an extension of this excellence, with the TATAs venturing into the competitive league system of the country.

Coming to the city, Jamshedpur can’t exactly be called a sleepy small town. The city is always abuzz, may be not with what us the metropolitan crowd would call chilling, but with the warmth of the residents of the city. The area’s surrounding the stadium and the headquarters of the TATAs are well planned, very similar to the city of Chandigarh. You could feel the vibes of similarity between both the cities across the circles at the road junctions.

And the iconic steel plant? Well, it engulfs the whole city. In fact, the city dwells around the steel plant, because it owes its existence to it. So, does the stadium. 

The steel plant at the backdrop of the stadium (Photo: HT)
Roads in Jamshedpur are quite well maintained, malls and cinema halls are well furbished. The pizza place on top of one of the most prominent hotels of the city serves one the best pizzas that I have ever had while the coffee shop right next to it, serves delicious hot chocolate with flavours that one usually doesn’t find. The city in fact has a little bit of colonial hangover, with the rich crème of the city leading a luxurious lifestyle, while the middle class and the strata below it has the colourful bazars and streets to them. 

So, when the Indian Super League came into the city, it became one of the most happening events that the city has ever seen in decades. 

The coming of the ISL led to huge excitement in the city and probably for the first time ever, all sections of the city could come into one complex and enjoy the same source of entertainment. The effluents had their places to go, but this time around, everyone in the city had the option of viewing football, the most beautiful game, sitting together.

Everyone in the city wanted to be at the JRD Tata Sports Complex. Long queues could be seen at the ticket counters with the curiosity being fuelled by hoardings and banners across the city. Come and support your team, that was the indirect message. More importantly, Jamshedpur FC gave the entire city something to cheer upon, something they can relate to. It did not take the long enough for this curiosity to turn into raw passion as in the last league match, fans stormed the stadium to cheer their team into the play offs, right in their debut season of the league.

Fans lining up to get tickets for Jamshedpur FC matches

Initially, the curiosity revolved around the gilt, glamour and the sparkle that the league got into the city, but for the best of us all, it did turn into raw football passion with crowd holding banners and posters of their favourite football icons of the team and even of the coach.

But what struck me the most was the attitude of the Jamshedpur fans. In India, we reside around the idea of free/complimentary passes. We just love them, don’t we? 

The stadium in Jamshedpur employs lot of workers who take care of its maintenance, most of which are women. On match days, when their work got over you could see a majority of them standing at the box office to get tickets for their family. With them having seen the magnitude of preparation for the match, they naturally became very excited to have their family watch a game at the stadium.

But not everyone could get tickets, mostly because its sold out. And hence a lot of them came to the organizers or the club to ask for tickets. Completely unknown to the concept of complementary tickets, some of these workers offered mone.

A proper football experience is worth some money, and a daily wage earner, who probably earns a fraction of what we do, understands it. This was probably the biggest take away from Jamshedpur.

It was a wonderful season, a long one too. Jamshedpur has always been in the professional football map of India, but this time around, it made its another historic big leap. There countless other experiences that one can just go on and on. Be it the excitement of the lobby boy at one of the team hotels, who did an overtime shift, just to meet and get a photo clicked with Dimitar Berbatov, for he was a Manchester United Fan, or the 'fortunate' bus driver who drove the home team. There are so many tales of ISL coming to the city.

So long Jamshedpur, this is just the beginning.

Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Dress to Impress?

There are so many parameters that decide which strata of society you belong to or deserve to be. This must have been the most abrupt or random start to any piece that your read recently. But the thought process that is being referred here isn’t random at all. The society has devised a systematic algorithm to judge people based on how they dress, among many other parameters. And just like every other computer program, claims do exist that this algorithm is bug free.  

So, when the Delhi Golf Club decided to not let one of their guests enter their premises because the lady was dressed in a traditional Khasi attire; which the prestigious club believed resembled to what is worn by servants. It was obvious that this societal algorithm is totally bug free.  

Then again, as I write this, a news has emerged at that a man was denied entry into a mall in Kolkata because he was wearing dhoti. At a time when gau rakshaks are lynching people in the name of culture, a person was denied entry into a mall because he was wearing something very traditional and natural to the culture of India.

Surely, these societal norms never fail to surprise me. I have been very weak with spellings, but I am sure some of the wisest ones who governs us or sets these norms, fail to spell the word ‘logic’.

Many my colleagues have vehemently reminded me about the shabby dressing sense that I have. I have often been advised to dress better for people to take me seriously. Well, one I thought it was my work that decided that and two I dress to please myself, not others. But my colleagues are not wrong either.

So, one afternoon I attended a lunch were the buffet manager refused to serve me dessert as they had limited stock and he believed that I was not important enough. Now, he clearly wasn’t someone who studied and understood society as I do. But he followed a norm which he learnt with experience. Where did he acquire this understanding? What made him classify that I am not important enough to not get access to the limited reserved stock of dessert? Clearly my dressing style and body language. And for sure it’s impossible to wear an ID tag as to who I am everywhere that I go.

But what we wear is basically the default ID that we carry. And as I said earlier, only few of us exactly know how to spell the word ‘logic’, let alone understand the meaning of it.

This racial profiling of people based on what they wear has been a latent cancer within our society for a long time. From an effluent eatery in Kolkata to this mall incident, there must have been so many other incidents that gets away unnoticed. To my understanding this also is a residue of the Britishers, which we Indians proudly incorporated into our list of traditions.  And dare I question Indian culture and tradition. 
Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Football for All | Making India a Footballing Nation

I am often asked, what did I do for my masters? Media and Cultural Studies isn’t an easy answer to explain, especially within the Indian education system. Our course was an attempt to understand culture and its nuances through the means of academic works, theories, and ethnographic frameworks. Media is just another tool to do so.

So, when we say culture, what does it mean? How do we define such a complicated thing like culture? In an easy way, it’s everything. From the way we live, to the way we in vibe things. From the way we comprehend notions, to the way we approach things. Everything basically forms the base of what we call ‘culture’. The stakeholders obviously are the topography, language, and upbringings.
From the region I come from, football forms a very basic and subconscious part of our culture. Some might say Assam isn’t just a hotbed of football, but the North-East India is. But it’s not just about the state, it’s also a lot about the surroundings. The school I studied in had football as a very integral part of its ethos. Years back I wrote how football matches and the annul football tournament in our school shaped our childhood days.

So, when I enrolled myself in a course that studies culture, I fulfilled my appetite and desire to understand and study football as a culture and evaluate the framework behind making a footballing nation, a lot of what is being talked about to day.

Subsequently, I joined the Local Organising Committee of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 after graduation and became fortunate enough to be a part of its legacy programme, Mission XI Million.
Now, many would say that this is an advertorial post for the programme and the event I work for. But as someone who just completed his dissertation on understanding the football culture in India in the current times, trust me this writing is just an extension of the thought process that I invested in my two years of understanding culture within my academic curriculum. Here is one of the last lines from my dear study:
‘There is no survival of the game if people don’t love it enough. A team has no existence if it doesn’t have any fans.’

This precisely is the reason why I love and is moved by the idea and philosophy of Mission XI Million (MXIM). Many of us dream of seeing India as a major footballing giant of the world, but at the same time, we also dream of it being a popular choice of game for majority of the billion population that we have. And for that to happen, we must make this game reach out to everyone, irrespective of the various socio-cultural, religious, and economic barriers that we have.

Kids are the best way to begin with. The philosophy of MXIM is simple - every child has the right to play football, irrespective of the background he or she comes from. The beauty of football lies in the fact that anyone can play it anywhere. To inculcate a healthy culture of football in India, we must start from our schools. The dynamic characteristic of culture is curated by the fact that generations often overtake proceedings. So, if we make the upcoming lot fall in love with the game, a proportion of the task of awaking the sleeping giant of world football is already done.

As some of us perceive, football isn’t just about the World Cup, the Champions League, or any other European Leagues. It’s about inclusivity. The fact that football played a major role in cohesion of nationalistic feeling during India’s freedom struggle makes it obvious as to why reaching out to everyone with the game is important.

As a part of MXIM, I have been fortunate to learn many stories as to how important football can be for someone. Even otherwise, be it the girls from Mumbrah or the Yuva team from Jharkhand, the game has shown how empowering the game can be. 

Every day we receive stories from across India, from the interior rural parts, and these stories aren’t just inspiring, but also sentimental to an extent that we start questioning our commitment; are we doing enough?

Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Revisiting Bharatmata Cinemas: A Photo Story

Right at the heart of Mumbai, at Lalbaug lies the Bharatmata Cinema Hall. For students studying the School of Media and Cultural Studies, TISS, Mumbai, this iconic cinema hall holds a special place as it was the subject of one of their most creative and successful student documentaries.

The area Lalbaug, for a century, was the hub of the Mumbai’s textile industry. The area is dominated by Maharashtrians, who first worked in the Girangaon, the Marathi term for the mill district of south-central Mumbai.

Today, the shape of Girangoan or Lalbaug is a bit different, in fact very different. The mills are gone, roads have widened. But one building at still stands tall, or rather still stands is the Bharatmata Cinema Hall.
Bharatmata Cinema Hall (Photo: Amlan Das)

History amidst modernity.
The moment you enter the premise, it feels that you have stepped into a different era all together. The hall still holds the vibes of a bygone era, and era when Lalbaug was still flocked with the hassles and flocking of the mill workers.

The hall started in the year 1936 and their target audience were the mill workers. Since it's inception, it has maintained a tradition of showing on Marathi Films and it still continues to do so. 

The entry to the theater. (Photo: Amlan Das)
Kapil Bhapotkar, who currently owns the place in an interview to the Firstpost said, “When my grandfather took charge of this place in 1941 he took two important decisions. One was to screen only Marathi movies and other was to keep the rates the lowest in the market. (They still sell tickets are just Rs 25, even though tickets in the multiplexes are being sold at Rs 250)” The tradition is still intact. 

Even today, a ticket at Bharat Mata costs just Rs. 50

As written earlier, when you enter the cinema, its like a time machine as you are teleported back to the 1940s. 

The old weight machines still stand at the entry (Photo: Amlan Das)
These corridors behold so many tales. Back in the days, they served in as the hotspot for many mill workers.

Photo: Amlan Das

The empty benches. (Photo: Amlan Das)

The doors have intricate designs and are characterized by heavy curtains. (Photo: Amlan Das)

The self has few old awards (Photo: Amlan Das)
But, the cinema hall today isn't as popular as it used to be. Only a hand full of people visit it. The city must preserve this heritage. And if you are in Mumbai, you should surely have a visit to this hall in your bucket list. 

Since 1936, nothing much has changed and a pending court case makes renovation impossible (Photo: Amlan Das)

Audience waiting for the show to begin. (Photo: Amlan Das)
If you are intrigued by the photos and the history behind this Theater, watch this very special documentary on Bharatmata Cinemas. You will relive and visualize the experience of Bharatmata Cinemas.

Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Freedom of Speech, Duh!

(Photo Courtesy: Hindustan Times)

Freedom of Speech. It’s so interesting that the once most celebrated human right is now the most controversial one. Sometimes you just get appalled by the sheer stupidity that surrounds you that you don’t even have words to describe them. And this results in immense frustration and all you can do is infuriate yourself by observing what’s happening around.

Most of our sentiments were hurt when AVBP goons took over the streets of Delhi University, and as protectors of Indian culture and nationalism, started exercising their masculinity by thrashing and molesting people. As if freedom of speech is conditional to ideas and views of what a group sitting at the pedestal believes in. If they don’t like what you are doing, they will make sure you are proved wrong and brought to justice by breaking every law possible. Morality of course has no place here. Oh! That sounds like the patriarchal and Brahmanical structure that India has been battling for a long time.  

As the ruckus unfolded within the streets of Delhi University, where a random girl walking her way to college was manhandled because some perverts calming to be from the hegemonic group took upon the chance to exercise their hooliganism over anyone visible. Our censor board hit a low blow by declining the film 'Lipstick Under My Burkha' a censor certificate. If you don’t know the reason, don’t ask it because just like what happened on the streets of North Campus, it makes no sense. Anyway, after all the Censor board and our student ambassadors of Indian nationalism and culture eat from the same plate. Just like it’s perfectly fine to certify and enjoy movies like Mastizadde and Great Grand Masti, it’s perfectly fine to stop a discussion of ‘Culture of Protest’ and beat the organizers because they are polluting the environment in a University campus. Just listen to this person.

Must it be reiterated here that Freedom of Speech is a very celebrated right. In Assam, an aspiring young singer took this guaranteed constitutional provision to make a song which has infectious double meaning and vulgarity. I was just wondering if we had a student body which could protect our culture from being polluted by such nuisance in the name of art. But of course, they had better things to do, like stop an academic conference which had elements of constructive criticism.

If you understand Assamese, you will probably find this debate on the song very interesting and amusing at the same time.

And just to make it very clear again, all these events happened within a week. So, you see, there is so much happening around that you almost forgot that ISRO launched a record breaking 104 satellites into the space just a week back. So, in a week we reached the universe and within the next one week we stooped down to new low by bringing in violence into the university campuses. This must be a new record in itself.

Our tolerance has decreased to such a level that today we prefer reading ‘News in Shorts’ but not a detailed article. So, even if I go on to rant on and on, this piece will just be like that constitutional right which is being talked upon here, in effective. What a time to be alive.  
Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Bollywood and Us in the time of La La Land

Yes the title is inspired from Love in the Time of La La Land

(Part 1)

What is it about Bollywood that despite all the criticisms that it receives, we tend to perceive or aspire our lives to what is being shown on the screen.

Like seriously, I was wondering what is so new about these new age love stories like Befikre? Isn’t it all the same funda about living happily ever after? You don’t need to think twice about what the climax would be? With just a little suspense, eventually the protagonists get married. (And there I was expecting them to be in a live-in relationship forever).

Even in a theatrical master piece like Tamasha, the tale ultimately ends with Deepika getting back with Ranbir.

Is getting back together the ultimate success of any relationship? Many within us, who probably criticize Bollywood’s naïveness in terms of depicting love stories, probably subconsciously agrees to what is being shown on screen.

Simply put, if we are to define what a successful relationship is, a majority would put marriage as a certificate to the attainment of the ultimate goal. So, when we say, what is so new age about love that is shown by the silver screen, it’s just probably the approach. The climax is still the same.

It’s worth wondering, what is dating all about? Especially when you are in your early and mid-20s. It’s too early to probably to think about settling down, but you are little too old to just fool around. That’s a bold statement to make since some of my classmates have already gotten married. But as I keep watching these movies, I have seriously started wondering about the ultimate consequence of dating a person.

Many within my circle, including me has dated more than one person. There are memories with each person we spend time with. But if today, I am asked, which one of my relationships have been a successful one, I don’t think so I will probably have an answer.

Most of us know what happened in the movie Cocktail or in the movie Love Aaj Kal or in Break ke Baad. All these new age movies ultimately had nothing new, right? So, whenever I sit back, thinking about what an ideal relationship is, the obvious answer that these movies have conditioned to most us is ‘staying together’.

(Part 2)

As I walked out of the movie hall today, a very different feeling struck me today. I am not really a fan of unconventional love stories. So as much as I criticize these ‘new age’ love stories, I am sort of a guy who fantasizes a ‘happy ending’. Or else as our very own SRK put is, “Picture abhi baki hai.”
I am quite popular among my friends for my horrible taste in movies. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t have the mental quotient to critically appreciate movies which people with ‘good taste’ appreciates.

So as I walked out of the hall watching La La Land, I probably found one answer to what a successful relationship is. So, what I figured is that, it’s just like our literature question paper where we have a phrase from a poem to elaborate and explain. And we all have a different perception to that stanza. But what we write in the answer sheet is probably a mugged-up version of what certain study guides have. Bollywood as of now, was that study guide for me.  

If we compare La La Land very carefully with our Bollywood movies, there are stark similarities. The protagonists turning back, romantic consolation, fights, stark confrontations. But what was different was the perception of love. Also, do note that I am not at all talking about technicalities here, it’s just about the perception.

If you also happen to wonder what a successful relationship is, do watch this movie and contemplate. I won’t give away spoilers. But a successful relationship is the one, that helps you achieve your goals. It’s not just about staying together, it’s about being happy and achieving what you aspire.

For most of us, Bollywood is the answer, but when you are at a phase where your future, personally and professionally is uncertain, one should look for alternate meanings of what is being shown on screen.

Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

International Men's Day Treat - What I saw in broad Daylight

On International Men’s Day, I happened to travel from Barpeta to Guwahati, the former being a sleepy town some 100 kilometers west of the state capital. Travelling in a Force Traveller, which has a capacity of 20 passengers, we took the distorted State Highway 2. Roads were bumpy and narrow, leaving no scope for the driver to improvise beyond the third gear. But despite this horribly bumpy ride, some of the passengers managed to fall asleep and I too was just seconds away from getting my much needed power nap.

Whip! A sound of tight slap woke us all. The entire van turned around and to the horror of all, a passenger on the last seat slapped his wife, right left and center. And in a split second, he started punching her. None of us reacted. For someone like me, I could not even believe that this was happening. The silence continued as the man, probably in his late 20s, started hitting his wife, probably of the same age, with a baby his hand.

As most people looked on; nobody thought of stopping the guy, or at least nobody did. It certainly looked wrong to me and I decided to intervene. Screaming at the top of my voice, I had to threaten the man to stop, else he would face consequences.

He did stop, probably got a little scared too. He started justifying, “I am a cab driver and I drive in Guwahati. I wanted to leave her at home as I can’t take her to the city, but she just refuses to stay with my parents.” As he ended his sentence, in a reflex he punched her on the face. The woman kept on weeping, without saying single word.

I shouted again, and threatened to call the police if he raised his hand once again. He gave me the ‘don’t you dare’ look. I knew he would not listen. I had to pull something different out of the hat to stop this menace. “You think you are the man, right? Come on, let’s have a fight,” I said and I have no idea why I did. The guy was taller than me and looked stronger. He could have easily beaten the shit out of me if we had a fight. But it worked. He did get a little scared and said sorry.

In the meantime, the entire van was just a spectator to the event. No one said anything. But once he sat, a passenger sitting right next to the driver laughed and shouted, “Haha. Go home and beat the shit out of her, do it behind the close doors. This is the way you should control a woman.”

Sounds sarcastic, right? Even I thought so. But he meant it. I kid you not; it came in as the rudest shock to me that he actually meant it. “Any woman who defies her husband should be given such doses. Else they become uncontrollable. And if that happens, you just become puppets of your wife.” He continued.

An older man sitting right opposite me smirked listening to this and said, “Ask me about it.”
I was almost at a loss of words. These comments boasted the confidence of the husband who just indulged in domestic violence in public and started ranting about his wife, who apparently does not listen to him.

“I know such women. You did the right thing, brother,” said the same guy sitting near the driver to the husband, but looking straight into my eyes. It seems he mocked me for taking a stand.

I had no idea what to say. Sometimes you just know whatever you do; you just can’t challenge the mentality of some people. In a single line, the person vomited the hegemonic patriarchal notions he had within himself and generalized all women to one character. And you know what’s worse? Many in the van agreed to it.

Think about the poor woman here, head buried in shame as she cried her heart out. No one knew her side of the story, yet they took a stand that made her more vulnerable to violence. And the helpless me could do nothing as the both the men bundled up to character assassinate almost every woman they knew in the society.

With no explanations working, I had to say something and I did. “How about a trip to the jail?” I asked. Both of them were shell shocked as they exclaimed. In an unfortunate turn of events I used my class card and said, “See, I am obviously more resourceful than you guys. I can make a call and put you guys behind the bars or maybe even get to some police affection.? And if your wife testifies to violence, then you are gone for good,” I continued. “I can actually make this happen with just phone call here,” I stressed again.

Their tones changed here. “That’s total misuse of your position and power, sir,” said the guy sitting next to driver. This time I smirked and said, “And this is so unfortunate that you don’t seem to see the misuse of power and position in the other case.”

I don’t know if he understood what I said or was it just the jail threat that silenced both the men. The woman was too ashamed and sad to respond. I don’t know what happened to her at home. But what I know is the sad fact that no one paid any heed when a distressed woman was beaten in broad daylight, in front of a public.

Happy International Men’s Day.
Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Podcast: The Heroics of Devendra Jhajharia

In the last episode, we talked the Indian contingent at the Rio Paralympics 2016 and how they have a great chance of winning medals this year. Well, since then India has won 2 gold medals, 1 silver and a bronze while a couple of athletes heroically made it to the top 5.

One such athlete is India’s first ever double para-gold medallist, Devendra Jhajharia. This episode is a salute to his heroics.
Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Podcast: Rio Paralympics and the Indian Contingent

Mariyappan Thangevelu after winning the medal. Credits: Sportskeeda

On the 10th, India’s Mariyappan Thangavelu created history by winning the gold medal at the men’s T42 High Jump event at the Rio Paralympics 2016 while fellow countrymen Varun Singh Bhati brought more laurels for the country by winning the Bronze Medal in the same event.

Here's a podcast which the did earlier in the week on the Indian Paralympics contingent and the Rio Paralympics 2016.

Credits for the interview goes to Sportskeeda.

Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Podcast: International Sexist Media and India's Lalita Babar

At a time when International Media reeked of sexism, Indian women over shone men to be the top performers in Rio. Here's a story of one such lady, Lalita Babar.

Episode 3 or the Olympic Hero series:

Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Podcast: PV Sindhu and The Failed Sporting Nation

The second episode of the Olympics podcast series talks about the heroics of PV Sindhu, who became the first Indian woman as well as the youngest Indian to win an Olympic silver.

The episode also talks about how India, despite cheering for Sindhu, Karmakar and Malik failed to be a sporting nation. Here it out.

Amlan Das Amlan Das Author

Assam, Kashmir and The Army: My Story

Photo: Twitter/StutiMishra

It must have been in the monsoons, for I remember that it was raining very heavily. My ancestral village lies somewhere near the Bhutan border and reaching there from Guwahati was quite a journey. Roads weren’t that great, in fact not motor able at any cost. So the 15-20kms inward journey from the highway was quite a journey. 

I fail to recollect what year it was, but must have been around 2004-2005 as I was prudent enough to recollect this fine young man. There was one patch in the journey which had to be covered on foot because the road was very narrow, amidst the rich paddy fields and thickly muddy. My father led the way, while I walked holding the hands of my mother. As we inched towards our village, a tall handsome young man came running to us from the paddy fields. He greeted my father, helped him with our luggage and walked towards our home. I don’t remember his face, but I remember the smile he had when he tickled me. 

This was the only distinct memory that I had of this guy, who probably a year later went missing and till date no one has any idea about his existence. Many speculate that he is dead, probably killed in an encounter, for he reportedly joined an insurgent group. 


This native place I am talking about was apparently notorious for being a hub of many insurgent groups. At a time when insurgency in Assam was probably at its peak, these villages near Bhutan border proved to be the base camps for many such groups. I remember my cousins telling me and showing me spots where a dead body of a kidnapped person was disposed by the militants. Such things were apparently pretty common those days. So when the infamous PC Ram abduction and murder case happened in 2007, it was believed that he was initially kept somewhere near this village I am talking about. 

On June 30, a decomposed body, believed to be that of Ram, was found in Anandapur village in lower Assam’s Baksa district. Reports The Hindu
Before I start with the next section, at the onset I must clarify that there is no hatred towards the army. This is owing to the situation in the country where even in the name of free speech one cannot raise his/her voice against injustice because there is always a fear of being called a traitor or more politely, anti-national.

Going back to this handsome tall boy, the one I wrote about at the start of the narrative. One is not sure what compelled him to join the insurgent group, if he did at all. But after many years, I did deduce something.

Back in those days, army raids were pretty common in the villages. I distinctly remember the army camp next to the highway as we started our inward journey into the remote village. As a school kid, there wasn’t much that I made of its existence. But from our brief stays during summer breaks, I recollect listening to elders talking about the army marching in and taking young boys around for interrogation. This was apparently a common routine where men aged 18 and above would occasionally be picked by the men in uniform, taken to the army camp and interrogated.
The area that is being talked about here is a very sensitive area. However, it’s a nature’s paradise. I fondly remember viewing the flickering lights from the Bhutan foothills and my elder cousins showing me mystery roads to the mystery land. Those roads led to the origins of many rivers that enrich the plains the Assam, and narratives are to be believed, the scenic beauty is mesmerizing.

But what my cousins did not tell me was that these very roads led to the locations where the Royal Bhutanese Army and Indian paramilitary forces cleared up a lot of insurgent camps.

Thus, these routine interrogation pickups did make sense from a security point of view as this place I am talking about is a very sensitive zone. People knew things, I agree, villages knew if there was any movement happening. And thus, the army kept their checks on. But what did not make sense for me, which I only discovered later, was the fact that people were scared of the army. They were not scared of the insurgent groups present there, but were sacred of the battalion that was posted to protect the land and the people.

There will be raised eyebrows if any learned person reads this, but as a 16 year old I used to listen to the tales of some of my cousins telling me how their friends were picked up by the army in the name of interrogation and were tortured mercilessly. I escaped the whole saga because my parents decided to move out of that place and relocated to Guwahati. But our summer vacation or holiday tours would be full of such stories.

On one occasion I remember a few army men visiting my ancestral home. The news reached much before their arrival that they were on their way. We lived in a joint family, and so my uncles advised all my cousins to stay indoors or go out to some safe place. I was a 15 year old kid, studying in an upscale Guwahati school, so I wasn’t really given any particular advice. And thanks to my schooling, my Hindi was prolific.

So when the men in uniform arrived, they sat on a bench on the huge courtyard of the house, chatting with my grandfather, I ran up to them, just to speak them in Hindi and salute them. Thanks to the deep penetration of state sponsored Doordarshan, I knew for a fact that you always salute an army personal. So when I went up to them, they spoke to me with a jolly face. At that point, I could not understand why my cousins were so afraid of these men.
I don’t wish to elaborate as to what, why and how these interrogations took place. But the handsome tall guy, about whom I started the piece with, was once taken by the army to their camp after which he never returned home.  Numerous groups, who made this remote part of Assam their safe haven, visited the villages regularly and from what I heard from the whispers of my cousins, it was not a difficult task for them to win the sympathies of the residents.

Rumour has it, that he was persuaded by them to join the group and thus, he went away.

Nationalism, army and Kashmir, just enter these keywords and YouTube will bring to you the videos of a primetime anchor shouting at a screen full of panelists. The situation in Kashmir has been the source of TRPs for most news channels for a long time now. Social media is full of posts either defending the army or supporting the greater cause of Kashmir.

Every time I see, hear or read about the army and Kashmir, I always tend to go back to those summer vacation days when I would visit my native place. I always wondered, why can’t our villagers trust the army? Why couldn’t the army win the sympathies of the villagers? And how could these insurgent groups win their trust so easily?

The answer might not be that easy, though people take stands very easy. One must understand the fact that it is very easy to influence as well as instigate residents living in such volatile areas. Being from one such place, I understand how one can be lured into activities without him/her thinking of the consequences.

The people of Kashmir demands Aazadi, there are few who demands demilitarization of the valley. But is just demilitarization or freedom the solution the entire issue?

Trust is an important element that binds a lot of things. If one cannot trust the defence forces, things become very complicated and as such it gives these non state actors to further perpetuate violence and hatred within the masses.

Without bringing in much opinion, the whole point of the narration was about how we look at things. How, as a kid, I saw the army and how my cousins saw the army. So when this picture of the kid playing with the army in Kashmir went viral, I could not help but write this.

Photo: Twitter /@sanjivbhatt

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