You spend years away from family and slog daily to provide for them. You save up to build a house and even provide a facility that can help others in your locality. But one day, out of nowhere, it is burnt down. Everything you worked so hard to achieve is taken away. What do you do from there? How do you make sense of life?
These are questions that still haunt India footballer Chinglensana Singh, four months after his house and the football field he built in Churachandpur were torched during the ethnic violence in Manipur. His family managed to escape, but things are far from returning to normal.
The Indian football squad left for the Asian Games on Sunday without Singh and Lalchungnunga, both late additions and yet to get their Chinese visa. India’s chef de mission Bhupinder Singh Bajwa has said they will get their visa “in a day or two”, though they will miss Tuesday’s first game against China.
But Singh is battling trauma of events in Manipur. Having made his senior India debut in 2021, the Hyderabad FC player was forced to withdraw from the Intercontinental Cup and SAFF Championship in June due to the devastation back home in May first week. Eventually, the 26-year-old defender returned to playing and was a late addition in the Hangzhou-bound squad.
His family in Manipur though is still in a state of limbo.
“It’s very hard to explain the emotional turmoil my family and I are going through,” said Singh. “On May 3, you have a home. A day later, you somehow escape a life-threatening situation. Your house has been burned down, looted. After a few days, you even receive pictures and videos of the dismantled property. It’s very disturbing to be homeless and in such a situation.”
Singh plans to build a new house but the situation is still grim in Manipur and he faces high material costs. All his family members are left with is some savings.
“My family is staying with my friend, who has built a new house,” said Singh. “The ground is being taken care of by a few football lovers. I hope to get a clear picture of how we can plan things. I have a big family, we’re three brothers and we live together. It’s about their well being as well.”
Amidst the trauma, finding meaning in day-to-day life is tough. But Singh is trying. That’s all he can do, he says.
“It’s very, very difficult to put things in perspective,” he said. “I’m blessed to play professional football and make a good living to be able to support my family. I’m very confident I can build a new house, but I keep thinking of how others will cope. I have friends, relatives and neighbours who I grew up with and I keep thinking about how they will survive, rebuild lives. All they had was their land and their homes have been burned down. Some don’t even have a regular job. It’s hard to accept that so many people are suffering in your hometown. I don’t know what steps the government will take to help these people. It’s just so disturbing.”
Manipur, which has produced several top athletes, has a rich football culture and provides the national team with top talent. The prolonged turmoil could mean a long road back to normalcy for these athletes.
“It’s a huge setback,” said Singh. “People from all tribes in Manipur have achieved great sporting feats. With the curfews and violence still going on, it’s going to be very difficult for things to get back to normal. How can kids focus and train when it’s a matter of life and death? As an athlete you need to be in the right frame of mind to perform and improve. It’s a loss for the state as well as the country.”
As his family try to rebuild their lives, Singh says his hunger to succeed on the football field is intact, both for his club and country.
“Playing for the national team was my dream, I never take it for granted. It was tough not being able to participate in the last few tournaments. Somebody filled my position and I’m ready to fight and reclaim it. In terms of ISL, we have a new team and are looking good. We’re also working on new tactics, I’m hoping we enjoy playing together.
“I believe in looking forward; that’s all I can do. I’ve asked my family to look after themselves, remain healthy and safe. We’ll start afresh, again.”