goal for india

The heart and soul of Indian football is in the Northeast. But when will the AIFF realise that?

Two of the region's most popular clubs, Aizawl FC and Shillong Lajong, may not play in a rejigged top tier of Indian football next year.

While Shillong Lajong were squaring off against East Bengal at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Shillong, a few distinct murmurs could be heard. “This is going to be the last season of the I-League.” “Shillong will play in the second division next year.”

That’s right, Lajong fans, Meghalayans for whom football is a way of life rather than a mere sport were discussing the All India Football Federation’s plans for a revised league structure next season, one which didn’t involve their team playing in the top division.

They may be living in a remote region but one cannot accuse them of not knowing their football. The disappointment on their faces was palpable. After several years of struggle their team was finally experiencing a breakthrough season and on the verge of finishing in the top half of the table. Yet, their team’s fate is highly uncertain as they may not even play in the top division come next season.

The heart and soul of Indian football

Lajong are however, not the only surprise package from the Northeast making waves this season. Nor are they most fascinating story of the campaign. That honour goes to little Aizawl FC, all the way from Salem Veng.

They may have been beaten 1-0 by Bengaluru but remain in contention for what may very well be the last I-League title. Irrespective of what happens in the title race, the Mizo team deserves credit for the fight they have shown.

Aizawl recently recorded their highest ever attendance of 11,845. The figure may not seem very high but that would be an absence of context. The 2011 census tells us that Mizoram’s capital has only three lakh inhabitants while Shillong has 50,000 more. Hence, we are talking about 4% of a town coming to watch a football match!

Most astonishing is the fact that this figure is almost double the official capacity of the Rajiv Gandhi stadium, 6000. The passion among Aizawl supporters is so high that they occupy a stand which is still under construction apart from the die-hard fans who watch on from nearby cliffs.

Disconnect with the ISL and its regional representative

On Meghalaya Day, Royal Wahingdoh women get ready to face Meghalaya day
On Meghalaya Day, Royal Wahingdoh women get ready to face Meghalaya day

The Northeast is without a doubt, one of the Meccas of Indian football as it provides 25-30% of the Indian team’s players. There is not a single club in the top tier either which does not have a player from the region. AIFF’s reluctance to market the game in the Northeast is thus baffling.

The head of one of the state associations, on the condition of strict anonymity told Scroll, “Over here, no one supports or recognises NorthEast United. There are only five Indian players, some of whom may not even be from the region. Why would we support such a club over our own teams?”

When the Indian Super League started, Shillong Lajong’s Larsing Ming Sawyan and John Abraham had come together to buy a stake in NorthEast United. The partnership only lasted a season as the two factions had a breakdown in relations. An official, who was with NorthEast at the time said, “It was a club in Guwahati, led by people from Mumbai. They clearly didn’t respect our understanding of the game and the region.”

Fans from both Shillong and Aizawl also felt the same way. James Lalhmingthanga, a resident of Aizawl spoke of the disconnect, “We have grown up watching these clubs. You cannot just turn up one day and say that we are not going to play the top league.”

Some basic research would also tell the Indian footballing federation that Shillong had been the football capital of the Northeast for a long time. Although Guwahati has witnessed good crowds, to say that one club would suffice for the region would be akin to saying that Bengaluru FC represent the entire southern region or that Minerva Punjab should be renamed North United.

While the entire domestic game is plagued by the apathy of administrators, the federation have missed a clear trick by not promoting football in the region or trying to promote football tourism in some of the most scenic grounds that you will ever see in the country. Some parts of the nation may still need convincing to watch football, but in this case, the ignorance of the men at the top is killing an established base of the game.

Does anybody care?

Under-12 children getting trained at Madan Heh, Shillong under a DSO initiative
Under-12 children getting trained at Madan Heh, Shillong under a DSO initiative

Local administrators are not blameless either. Mizoram, with the aid of FIFA funding and eager administrators, is fast becoming the hub of talent in the Northeast displacing Meghalaya and Shillong.

While the Mizo Premier League is telecast on the local channel Zo Net increasing its reach, the Shillong Premier League has fallen into a rut with dwindling attendances ever since the exits of Royal Wahingdoh and Rangjadied United from the I-League. Add Lansning FC, once regulars in the second division to this list and one thing that all these clubs will tell you is the lack of a roadmap at the very top of the game.

The SPL had seen average attendances of 500-1000, down from the heady heights of 15,000 that the Lajong-Wahingdoh derby once used to attract. Thangboi Singto, Lajong’s coach and a native of Manipur but in Meghalaya since he was six, insisted on changing with the times, “We have to compete with the likes of the Premier League on television. Maybe the games are just not that exciting anymore. We have to play better perhaps.”

Financially as well, there seems to be no reward in sight. Take the case of Mawrynkenneng FC, who won the SPL’s third division this year and a sum of Rs 1 lakh, but spent eight times that amount over the whole year. If the champions of these community-run clubs have a hard time, what chance do the other clubs have?

Away from the humdrum of the busy cities, the children of the Northeast are indeed luckier to have more grounds than their urban counterparts. As Nicholas Jyrwa, general manager of Wahingdoh says, “We prefer to play our football outdoors rather than inside our rooms with our hands [sly dig at the console generation there]. You can always find a good game here and join in.”

The little technicians of India aren’t extinct, but are well on their way to becoming an endangered species but no one seems to be listening. Apathy from the top to the bottom threatens a slow-down in what is more than merely a hobby sport, but a community-driven initiative. After all, footballers of the future learn best from watching good football first hand.

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Young Indians now like their traditional food with a twist

Indian food with international influences is here to stay.

With twenty-nine states and over 50 ethnic groups, India’s diversity is mind-boggling to most foreigners. This diversity manifests itself across areas from clothing to art and especially to food. With globalisation, growth of international travel and availability of international ingredients, the culinary diversity of India has become progressively richer.

New trends in food are continuously introduced to the Indian palate and are mainly driven by the demands of generation Y. Take the example of schezwan idlis and dosas. These traditional South Indian snacks have been completely transformed by simply adding schezwan sauce to them – creating a dish that is distinctly Indian, but with an international twist. We also have the traditional thepla transformed into thepla tacos – combining the culinary flavours of India and Mexico! And cous cous and quinoa upma – where niche global ingredients are being used to recreate a beloved local dish. Millennials want a true fusion of foreign flavours and ingredients with Indian dishes to create something both Indian and international.

So, what is driving these changes? Is it just the growing need for versatility in the culinary experiences of millennials? Or is it greater exposure to varied cultures and their food habits? It’s a mix of both. Research points to the rising trend to seek out new cuisines that are not only healthy, but are also different and inspired by international flavours.

The global food trend of ‘deconstruction’ where a food item is broken down into its component flavours and then reconstructed using completely different ingredients is also catching on for Indian food. Restaurants like Masala Library (Mumbai), Farzi Café (Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru) and Pink Poppadum (Bengaluru) are pushing the boundaries of what traditional Indian food means. Things like a kulcha pizza, dal chaawal cutlet and chutney foam are no longer inconceivable. Food outlets that stock exotic ingredients and brands that sell traditional Indian packaged snacks in entirely new flavours are also becoming more common across cities.

When it comes to the flavours themselves, some have been embraced more than others. Schezwan sauce, as we’ve mentioned, is now so popular that it is sometimes even served with traditional chakna at Indian bars. Our fascination with the spicy red sauce is however slowly being challenged by other flavours. Wasabi introduced to Indian foodies in Japanese restaurants has become a hit among spice loving Indians with its unique kick. Peri Peri, known both for its heat and tanginess, on the other hand was popularised by the famous UK chain Nandos. And finally, there is the barbeque flavour – the condiment has been a big part of India’s love for American fast food.

Another Indian snack that has been infused with international flavours is the beloved aloo bhujia. While the traditional gram-flour bhujia was first produced in 1877 in the princely state of Bikaner in Rajasthan, aloo bhujia came into existence once manufacturers started experimenting with different flavours. Future Consumer Limited’s leading food brand Tasty Treat continues to experiment with the standard aloo bhujia to cater to the evolving consumer tastes. Keeping the popularity of international flavours in mind, Tasty Treat’s has come up with a range of Firangi Bhujia, an infusion of traditional aloo bhujia with four of the most craved international flavours – Wasabi, Peri Peri, Barbeque and Schezwan.

Tasty Treat’s range of Firangi Bhujia has increased the versatility of the traditional aloo bhujia. Many foodies are already trying out different ways to use it as a condiment to give their favourite dish an extra kick. Archana’s Kitchen recommends pairing the schezwan flavoured Firangi Bhujia with manchow soup to add some crunch. Kalyan Karmakar sprinkled the peri peri flavoured Firangi Bhujia over freshly made poha to give a unique taste to a regular breakfast item. Many others have picked a favourite amongst the four flavours, some admiring the smoky flavour of barbeque Firangi Bhujia and some enjoying the fiery taste of the peri peri flavour.

Be it the kick of wasabi in the crunch of bhujia, a bhujia sandwich with peri peri zing, maska pav spiced with schezwan bhujia or barbeque bhujia with a refreshing cold beverage - the new range of Firangi Bhujia manages to balance the novelty of exotic flavours with the familiarity of tradition. To try out Tasty Treat’s Firangi Bhujia, find a store near you.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Tasty Treat and not by the Scroll editorial team.