“Mumbai ka fashion aur Kashmir ka mausam… kab bigdega kisiko pata nahin (Mumbai’s fashion and Kashmir’s weather… no one can tell when they will change),” says Gulzar Ahmed with awe and cynicism in equal measure.
In his 50s, Ahmed takes a seat behind the goalpost of the TRC Turf Ground with his hands tucked inside the pheran, a beedi between his lips. He has never missed a football match at any venue in Srinagar, he says. And now, he is looking forward to Tuesday, when home debutants Real Kashmir take on former champions Churchill Brothers in the first I-League match to be played in Jammu & Kashmir.
“It hasn’t snowed here in November for as long as I can remember. But just before such a big match, the weather’s gone bad. Inshallah, the sun will be out and we can have a good contest,” he says.
It’s almost fateful that a club born out of nature’s fury should be tested by the elements on the eve of its biggest match. Real Kashmir is a club steeped in symbolism, with team owner Shamim Mehraj, a Muslim, and his partner Sandeep Chattoo, a Kashmiri Pandit, combining to give a strife-torn community something to build on after the devastating floods of 2014.
The team’s Scottish coach, David Robertson, snubbed offers from China and other countries to lead this bunch of rookies to the second division title in only their second year. And at every step, they have had to overcome multiple hurdles. Last month, the final of an invitational tournament between Real Kashmir and Minerva at this ground had to be cancelled due to curfew in the city.
On Sunday, the weather has brought Srinagar to a standstill. But looking up at the snow that offers a dramatic backdrop to the landmark occasion, Mehraj says, “We have seen a lot worse than this.” Chattoo chips in: “We will overcome this, too.”
At the stadium, the snowfall and the power cut that has followed have put a lot of last-minute work on hold, including the construction of a TV tower to beam live pictures of the match. “We will have to make a temporary structure, there is no other way out,” says Majid Yousuf, who works with the J&K football council.
Adjacent to the Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) and situated on one of the busier streets off Dalgate bridge, the ground does not offer many facilities, apart from the newly constructed, cottage-like dressing rooms. This, in fact, used to be a cricket ground until 2014, when the then chief minister Omar Abdullah sanctioned an all-season turf, particularly suited for football.
But what the stadium lacks in size, it makes up with its breathtaking surroundings — the chinar on one side providing a perfect contrast to the snow-clad mountains on the other. Tuesday’s forecast, fortunately for fans like Ahmed, predicts a chilly but sunny day. But as Ahmed says, “Mausam kab bigdega kisiko pata nahin.”