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Published by Manish Adhikary

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Published by: Manish Adhikary on Feb 22, 2012
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 Sikkim | Sept. 18 | 6.10 p.m. A group of students playing football outside Rumtek Monastery are crying out to the goalkeeper, warning him about a striker tearing into the D-Box. Seconds later, the earth shakes and cries of 
reverberate across the state. The 6.8-magnitude earthquake, one of the biggest to have hit the state,leaves in its wake a trail of destruction and a flurry of  aftershocks. Caught in the midst of the tragedy is a secret sect of football lovers, the young lamas of Sikkim, and their mystical view of what really went wrong 
Text & Photographs by
 Manish Adhikary 
Students of the Lapda atEnchey Monastery, nearGangtok, team up beforea game of football,which is not encouragedat Ringhim Monastery(right) in Mangan.
Sikkim(8) II time.indd 32-3329/10/11 1:50 PM
midnight cheers follow a match in Madrid,disturbing sleepy grandmothers in the sub-urbs of Deorali and Tadong; or, simply, inthe form of a Barcelona jersey worn by ateenager haggling for a pirated South Ko-rean DVD at Lal Bazaar. Yet, there are only so many places in astate, in which 84 percent of the geography is notified as forest area, where sport rollstogether with the twists of politics and thetwang of spirituality. That is, only if youexclude Sikkim’s monks who live in the ap-proximately 200 monasteries in the stateand are now busy attending prayer cere-monies for the victims of the worst naturaldisaster they have seen in their life.The worldview of the Buddhistmonks—dressed in red robes and yellow vests—especially thatof the younger lot is as quaint and mystical as the benefits of chanting the Vajra Guru mantra,
“Om Ah Hung Vajra Guru Pema Siddhi Hung” 
. But it is their passion for sport, and foot- ball in particular, that springs a hearty surprise.One week after the earthquake, as S
 travelled to the scenes of devastation to understand the im-pact of the tragedy on the state’s sporting ambitions, the bestaccounts came from the young boys who have dedicated theirlives to Sikkim’s patron saint Guru Padmasambhava, the Glori-ous Lotus Born. Padmasambhava or Guru Rimpoche, as he isreferred to in the monasteries of Sikkim, was a sage and tantricpractitioner who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan, Tibet and theneighbouring countries in the eighth century. Candles are stilllit around a footprint, believed to be the Guru Rimpoche’s, im-printed on a rock face at Ringhim Monastery in Mangan, northSikkim. In the evenings, young students of the Sheda, the mon-astery’s school, gather near the holy site and discuss football.Sport is officially banned on the campus. But words of praise fora student, who sneaked out of school to play football with boysfrom a nearby village, lift the mood every time.“It is not surprising that the senior monks in Ringhim don’texpress their fondness for sport very clearly,” says Sangmu Then-dup, a Buddhism research scholar and lecturer at Sikkim Univer-sity. “There may not be too many direct references to sport inancient Buddhist texts but it will not be stretching it to say thatsports, like any other material pursuit, is discouraged.”Thendup refers to the
Vinaya Pitaka
, one of the three Buddhistscriptures that make up the
that lays out the rules andregulations for monks and nuns. “In fact, there is a passage inthe
Vinaya Pitaka
discouraging monks from even indulging insomething as casual as tickling each other,” she says. A few kilometres downhill from Ringhim, in the bustling ba-zaar of Mangan, the north district’s headquarters, a young po-litical activist, Chewang Jigme, 30, greets Tenzin Ninzey, 30, andSonam Tashi Gyaltsen, 30, and shows them the way to the mon-astery. Sonam and Ninzey are National Institute of Design grad-uates who run a design consultancy in Gangtok. They have ar-rived in Mangan early morning to visit the Ringhim monastery.The institution has been around for more than two centuries.The first building was made of wood and so was the one builtafter that. Both were destroyed in subsequent fires, forcing pa-trons to build the current one, later destroyed in the Septemberearthquake, of mud and stone in the late 1800s. Local Lepchaartisans were smuggled to Lhasa where they learnt the ways of Tibetan art and returned to draw beautiful stone paintings onthe walls, says Sonam, who along with Ninzey has volunteeredto study the elements that went into building the structure andsuggest ways to preserve what is left. For free.
s the
two get busy with maps, we ask Jigme how youngmonks, who study in the monastery, are coping with thetragedy. “Well, most of them have gone home because eventhe walls of the buildings that did not collapse are cracked. Someare busy reading from the scriptures at the
for the victims. You will find the few left behind playing football. You can’t take thatgame away from them, you know,” he smiles. At the monastery, Dawa Lepcha, a 19-year-old monk who haslived there for 10 years, is not playing the Beautiful Game. He iscleaning the staircase of an adjacent building. This one is madeof concrete. “We don’t play here in Ringhim,” he says.Honestly? But we were told...“Well, our principal doesn’t allow it. Some of my friends dosneak out to play in the nearby villages sometimes though.” And what about you? Don’t you like sport? A sheepish grin dawns on his face. He looks behind his back  before whispering, “Chungi!”Chungi is a game that involves tugging at a ball made of rubber bands with the feet. It is somewhat similar to hacky sack or footbagand is a common pastime in many parts of India including Sikkim.Have you got a chance to play after the earthquake?
“Aaj kal ta kheldina laa. Ramro hudaina ni.” 
Not appropriate to play in these times (after the earthquake,since many people have died), he says in Nepali laced with adelicious Bhutia accent. Maybe his decision not to play is simi-lar to chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, the CM whoabstained from the Oct. 6 Dussehra festivities as a mark of condolence to the victims. And yet, there is a point on whichthe 19-year-old monk and his friends and the 61-year-old chief minister and his government, in power for 17 years, differ.“A lot of bad things are taking place. Dams are being built where no man should go. That’s why the earthquake,” themonks in Ringhim say. Sikkim has 28 hydel projects comingup on the Teesta. For the young monks, therefore, the Sept. 18event was more than just a natural disaster. For the chief min-ister, it wasn’t.“It has been 10 years since our government initiated powerprojects in Sikkim. Earlier, too, such earthquakes happened inSikkim but at that time there was not even electricity, forgetpower projects,” the chief minister says in his defence.The hydel power debate has been on for a long time. TheLepchas, the oldest inhabitants of the state, started protesting
Most monks claimthey make up withstrength what theylack in skill. But thisEnchey monk provesthat talent is neverexclusive.
of the most popular languages in Sikkim arepolitics, spirituality and sport. Most of the 6,00,000residents of the state, especially in capital Gangtok,speak all three. Sometimes, a Sikkimese in questof a more exhaustive, more descriptive narrativemight merge one with another. It is not surprisingto find in the capital, for instance, some membersof the working class mixing their spiritual beliefs with politics while discussing the government’s alleged lack of compassion inrehabilitating the people displaced by hydropower projects. Thelanguage of sport, however, is subtler and less pronounced. But you do hear it all the time in the state capital—in the form of an Arsenal sticker shining on the windscreen of a bureaucrat’s SUV outside the Secretariat; a curt conversation on M.G. Marg aboutUnited Sikkim’s poor prospects in the Durand Cup; as loud
Sikkim(8) II time.indd 34-3529/10/11 1:51 PM
the focus shifts to hard facts.
60 (the toll crossed the 100-mark insubsequent weeks).
Houses damaged:
Relief camps:
Cattle lost:
Sheep, goats, pigs lost:
The sporting setback
But it is only after you meet Sikkim’s sportsminister N.K. Pradhan that the disaster’s impact on sports hits home. Thesoft-spoken minister sounds optimistic initially. But as the conversationgradually drags him back to the earthquake, his voice gathers gravity. “Thetragedy has backtracked our efforts,” he says. “Sport has been affected atthe grassroots level and it will take some time before Sikkim can stand onits feet again.”
against dams as far back as 2007and even staged a 934-day relay hunger strike. They consider theDzonghu zone in north Sikkim, thesite of several dams and the regionthat suffered the maximum damageduring the quake, sacred. They havetermed the dams sacrilegious andallege that the gigantic structures of iron and concrete being built on theTeesta are directly responsible for the natural disaster.Khempo Gawang, a senior monk who teaches Buddhistphilosophy in Rumtek monastery and has nothing to do withany organised anti-dam organisation echoes a similar view.“There are two main causes—visible and invisible. The formeris for the scientists to explore. The latter has to be addressed by religion,” he says. “The truth is, the world is made of morethan just sentient beings. There is life that our eyes do not see. When you dig so much (to build dams), it causes problems forthe invisible sentient beings who live in the hills, big rocks andrivers. They may well get angry and react.”There are younger monks in the monastery who have theirown take. Jampa Wangyal from Arunachal Pradesh came toRumtek 10 years ago, when he was only six. The little boy  with wistful brown eyes was taking part in religious activi-ties at the monastery’s summer retreat when the earthquakerocked the institution established in the 16th century. “They should not defile nature. It’s wrong,” he says shyly, but withstupefying certainty. “We were all so scared because the
here is
a bad fiction feel about Sikkim a week after theearthquake, especially on the low-cost airline that flies you toa low-cost West Bengal town called Siliguri from where youmust hire a jeep to Gangtok. [Rs 150 takes you 110 km to 1780metres above sea level.] The stories that you gather on theway do not even merit a paperback. But like all bad stories and goodnews reports, almost all of them ring true.“It’s stinking dead bodies in Dzongu.”“We are returning to our Gangtok home after taking shelter in ourSiliguri apartment for a week.”“Surely, the [Pawan Kumar] Chamling government will feel thequake in 2014 (when the assembly elections take place). Tch tch”“Those two survivors from Chungthang (in North Sikkim) wereflown in relief helicopters to Siliguri and packed into a bus back toGangtok. What fun!”Once you reach the state capital and meet government officials,
Thestate’sbest-knownface,theformerIndianfootballteamcaptainBhaichungBhutia,alsosufferedamajorblowafewdaysaftertheearthquakewhenthebuildingthathousedtheUnitedSikkimFootballClubclub’sofficescollapsedonSept.24.Almost all sporting events slated to be heldin the state have been indefinitely postponed.The biggest of them was the Governor’s GoldCup that was to begin on Oct. 9. “Several verygood teams, including Mohun Bagan fromKolkata and Lajon F.C. from Shillong, werecoming to participate in the biggest event inthe state’s sporting calendar,” says Pradhan.“We are not even sure if we can host the eventin the near future.”
Infrastructure concerns
Pradhan’s problems have been compoundedby the damage incurred by the Paljor stadiumin Gangtok. “Paljor stadium is one of the mostimportant football venues in the state. What’sworse is we had laid an all-new artificial turfon the field only a couple of months ago. Thequake has caused a depression on the westernside of the ground which will take some effortto correct. But repairs will begin soon.”Another major football setback for thestate was the suspension of work on theupcoming Bhaichung Bhutia Stadium inNamchi, the capital of the South Sikkimdistrict. “We had initiated the tender processfor the
35-crore stadium. But unfortunatelywe cannot go ahead with the project for sometime now,” says Pradhan.The reality in the villages is even starker.Not a single sporting infrastructure or playingfield has been spared. “Playgrounds haveturned into relief shelters which does not dothem any good,” Pradhan says.The rural management and developmentminister C.B. Karki details the plans that werelaid out by chief minister Pawan Chamlingfor development of sports in the hinterland. “In his 17th year in power,after he travelled across the state as part of the ‘
 Jan Sampark Yatra
’,Chamling resolved to strengthen sports facilities in every Gram PanchayatUnit. Every village, according to him, must have at least one playgroundand a community hall with facilities for indoor games,” Karki says. “Thegovernment also wants to develop four games—football, archery, volleyballand badminton—to help people from backward areas come to the fore.”There is another side to the setback to sport in Sikkim. That is thedamage inflicted on almost 90 percent of schools in the state. “Whenschools get hit, it has a ripple effect on young students who depend onthese institutions for training,” says Pradhan.Has the tragedy, therefore, gone on to affect the psyche of theplayers too? “One cannot be very certain but the current predicamentis sure to dampen a few spirits. There was the earthquake coupled withunprecedented rain this monsoon. The fields are slushy, the facilities arenot in the best of shapes. We have a real task on our hands.”
“This is how we heldeach other duringthe quake, whichstruck becausemany people urinatein the open,” saysthis group of monks.
The monks ofRinghim pray forthe victims of theearthquake thatalso damaged thePaljor stadiumin Gangtok.
Sikkim(8) II time.indd 36-3729/10/11 1:52 PM

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