New Delhi, Nov 20 : This must be the season of Northeastern cultural assertion in the Capital. And not a moment too soon.
Close on the heels of the much attended North East Festival 2014, comes the North-East Tamchon football tournament, a little-known but yet strangely popular annual ritual here, the eighth edition of which kicked off earlier this week.
For the regular Northeasterner seeking some sense of identity away from home, football has often shown the way.
The antidote that delivers them from the discrimination and suspicion, sometimes violent, that confronts them on a daily basis on the 'mainland' as they call it, the sport can whip up a spontaneous sense of belonging which even their love for music possibly cannot match.
For starters, football remains faithful to old world idea of being easy to set up; it is cheaper and a less of a logis tical and organisational headache than a rock concert, swear the organisers. It was this premise that made the Tangkhul Naga Society Delhi, the event organisers, choose football over music when they first felt a need for a platform to showcase Northeastern identity in the Capital way back in 2006. Crucially, the event is named after RN Tamchon, ACP, Delhi Police who served between 2000-2003 and was looked upon by the community in the Capital.
The concept, no doubt, was also inspired by the scenes that unfolded at the 2004 Nationals hosted by Delhi, where a hitherto indifferent Capital got a first-hand taste of what Northeastern fanaticism and love for football was like. Students, salesmen and office-goers by the thousands would throng to the Ambedkar Stadium to see Manipur play, screaming their support and playing their music in the stands. Such an outpouring of support from the region had never been previously seen in the Capital and it gave rise to the distinct possibility of a group's identity and belonging that had not been manifest in this fashion through a sport.
Somewhere, the Tamchon tournament continues to do the same. The idea of inviting non-league teams representing communities and tribes from the region states caught on. Last season, a good 20,000 strong crowd turned up to see Hmar FC a Mizo-Manipur combine win the title and the organisers hope a greater number will turn out at the Nov 29 final this time.
For now, they have put a cap on requests for participation to 16 teams because the size of the event is getting out of hand.
With a shoestring budget of Rs 18 lakh, the society which organises the event purely through volunteers, fears that any more would get out of hand.
At this year's opening ceremony, a good couple of thousand had already taken the stands in the late November afternoon, breathlessly expectant of the events to follow.
Almost as if on cue, food stalls cropped up in the second tier of the Stadium momos by the bucketful, brimful containers of drippingly tempting pork curry, fried fish and an assortment of evening snacks were whipped up by smiling matronly women who knew what they had to do.
And if there's football and food, how could full-throated singing be far away. Schoolgirl Chonchon Varah belted out a hair-raising rendition of Whitney Houston's One Moment in Time, before a five-tribe choir group gave us the tournament's theme song.
"This is what we do," sighed organising secretary Kharingpam Chahing, clearly wanting to chat more on the issue of race, discrimination, integration, safety... and football. He needn't have bothered. The impromptu festival scenes at the stadium was evidence enough.