In cricket-mad India, 1 distant corner is crazy for soccer
Argentina fans (Getty Images)
Kohima - In India, where cricket is one of
the few things that knit together this disparate nation, the people of the
distant northeast see glory in a different sport: Soccer.
In Nagaland state, power authority
employees have been ordered to "remain vigilant," and warned they
could be called in for emergencies.
Because in a region long plagued by power
blackouts, officials know the electricity needs to stay on during Soccer World Cup
The order, sent by Nagaland state officials
earlier this month, made clear this was no ordinary time for the state's power
In this corner of India's far northeast,
where electricity is sometimes available for just a few hours a day, engineers,
supervisors and switchboard operators were "directed to remain vigilant in
their respective duties."
Extra staff were put on standby. Drivers
were instructed to be at the ready. Everyone was told they could be called in
Why? "For smooth maintenance of power
supply during the World Cup matches," the order read.
In this part of India, there's no messing
about when it comes to soccer. Especially not during the World Cup.
In the village of Ringui, match days find
people walking along dirt roads carrying televisions, searching for neighbours
who have the right cable connection or a more dependable electricity supply. In
the little town of Mokokchung, the flags of Argentina, Brazil, Germany and
Spain fly above concrete homes. In Ungma, a banner proclaiming "Welcome to
Russia" welcomes visitors. In the town of Kohima, an entire house goes to
bed without dinner, upset after Argentina lost to Croatia.
The fervour for soccer is felt mostly
deeply in Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, four of the seven states
that dangle off India's northeast.
The region is, in many ways, a stepchild to
the rest of the country, a place where most people trace their ethnic roots to
Myanmar or China, and where a thicket of separatist militias have waged
decades-long fights for independence. In a largely Hindu country, much of the
northeast is Christian.
Elsewhere in India, only one sport matters:
Cricket. There's cricket on TV, cricket on the radio and tens of thousands of
matches played across India every day in alleys, streets and dirt fields. It is
one of the few things that knit together this disparate nation of 1.3 billion.
"The cliché is true," journalist
Anurag Verma wrote recently. "Cricket is a religion in our country. And
the cricketers are its gods."
Except in places like Kohima, the capital
"Soccer was the first game we were
introduced to," says the 34-year-old Longrangty Longchar. "The World
Cup is more like an important religious event." Another Kohima resident,
Sophy Lasuh Kesiezie, loves how she can tell when someone scores by the screams
and shouts that rattle through town.
What explains this love of soccer? No one
is sure. Maybe it came from the Christian missionaries who arrived in the 19th
century. Some inspiration probably came from British colonials. In Nagaland,
Talimeren Ao, a small-town doctor and captain of India's 1948 Olympic soccer
team, inspired generations of players.
Or maybe, in a place that stands apart from
the rest of India, it's just one more way for north easterners to revel in what
makes them different.