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Head for India, heart for Kashmir, Wadoo lives it up

Srinagar-born 26-year-old footballer Mehrajuddin Wadoo is relaxing in his room with India teammate Baldeep, when HT goes to meet him.

other Updated: Sep 22, 2010 00:25 IST
Siddhanth Aney
Siddhanth Aney
Hindustan Times

Srinagar-born 26-year-old footballer Mehrajuddin Wadoo is relaxing in his room with India teammate Baldeep, when HT goes to meet him. As we sit down to chat and Baldeep graciously makes tea for everyone around, Wadoo says he’s very tired today. He's had his dinner. And he isn't keen on answering any political questions for dessert — “Whatever I say and appears in the media, it affects people back home, you must understand”.

So we try to steer clear of political questions. His identity as a Kashmiri is not dwelt on too much. “I am a footballer. I love the game. I play for India. I am also a Muslim. And I say my prayers every single day. That's all there is.”

How and when did he start playing football? Wadoo says, “My father played football. There was always a football in the house. Like most boys, I started playing football for fun. I enjoyed the game.”

He remembers home fondly — even if it changes a little every time he returns. “The curfews, the mothers who've lost their sons...” He won't say much more. But though he speaks to his parents every night, he only gets to go back home two, maybe three times a year. “I played in the parks in Srinagar. Even now, I don't have a single friend who doesn't play football. They're back home, doing other jobs. There's a lot of anger in them.”

Do his friends, those simmering with anger, fighting for azadi, have mixed feelings about their childhood friend playing for what is perceived to be an alien country? “They have mixed feelings, yes. They don't feel Indian. But they have never held it against me that I am in the ‘Indian’ national team.”

For Wadoo, playing for India is a dream come true. They call him the truck, for his strength. “I cannot speak for all Kashmiris. I don't know all Kashmiris, so how can I? But my parents are proud, yes. They understand their son plays for India, and yet when a young boy is killed on the streets...” he trails off.

The political is off limits, he points out once again. “Please don't write that” becomes a familiar refrain. Despite the hesitation, this midfielder, with a body that could put Dino Morea out of business, admits to the duality his father often feels. “When a woman loses her son to a bullet in the bloody violence, you can't help but be filled with hatred. If I were still living in Srinagar and wasn't a footballer, I could be throwing stones too. There is enough anger. I see it every time I visit.”

In the team, though, there is no divide, no animosity. It doesn't matter whether you're Kashmiri or Manipuri. Whether you eat fish or pray five times a day like the five of us were doing in Portugal during Ramadan. We're brothers. We're sportsmen. Football is all that matters.

First Published: Sep 22, 2010 00:24 IST