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
, 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
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.
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
“THERE IS A PASSAGEIN THE
DISCOURAGING MONKSFROM EVEN INDULGINGIN SOMETHING ASCASUAL AS TICKLINGEACH OTHER.”
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
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