Nestled in the upper reaches of North Kashmir’s Kupwara district, Machhal ‘bowl’ is remote area situated in close proximity to the Line of Control (LoC) with a number of small hamlets. Life here isn’t easy–while this entire area gets cut-off from the rest of the world due to extremely heavy snowfall during winters, Pakistan Army’s reprehensible policy of ceasefire violations and targeting civilian areas often results in death of innocent villagers and destruction of their property.
All this takes a heavy toll on the physical and mental wellbeing of the hapless residents. But, with the Indian Army deployed in this area stepping-in to help better the lot of locals, things are now looking up. While the army has always been extending a helping hand to its needy brethren from its own meagre resources, commencement of Project Sadbhavana has greatly enhanced the scope of such assistance and has helped in making a quantum improvement in the quality of life of the locals.
Over the years, 56 Rashtriya Rifles, which is located here has built an excellent rapport with the villagers and besides executing infrastructural improvement projects with local assistance, this unit of valiant Marathas has also been encouraging children and youth to engage in healthy sporting and activities. So, what started off as a small-scale experiment in organized outdoor activity more than a decade ago evoked such an enthusiastic response from local youth that since 2010, cricket and volleyball tournaments between teams representing different villages and even mohallas are held every year.
For the last one decade, prize distribution for these prestigious tournaments conducted under aegis of the Indian Army, along with other cultural events and amusement activities for small boys and girls have taken the shape of a grand event, which locals refer to as ‘Machhal Mela [fair]’. In the runup to this much-awaited event, a total of 21 teams representing various villages of Machhal bowl participated in Machhal Cricket Premier League and in a nail-biting finish, Tiger Sports, Dhudi defeated Royal Challengers to emerge as this year’s champion. In the annual Machhal Volleyball Premier League, a total of 10 teams clashed for the title and while Madin Mohalla Macchal won the tournament, Machhal Sports Team secured second position.
Just like in the past, Machhal Mela this year too was a grand affair which was attended by a about 1,500 locals- both young and old alike. Col. Pranay Pawar, Commanding Officer of 56 RR which organised Machhal Mela welcomed chief guest Maj Gen Amardeep Singh Aujla, GoC Vajra Division and the locals who had come to attend the event. This was followed by a welcome speech delivered by Master Shaukat Harray, a local teacher who conveyed the people’s gratitude to the army for readily extending all possible assistance to alleviate the problems being faced by villagers especially during severe winters.
Thereafter, the variety programme started with students from the local madrassa displaying their excellent musical abilities by singing a group song on the theme of nationalism. Not to be left behind, a group of school girls won the hearts of the audience with an impressive rendition of ‘Ae Watan’- a famous patriotic song which, going by the applause that followed, demonstrated that it was highly appreciated by the locals.
Another presentation that deserves special mention was a challenging medley of Hindi and Kashmiri music presented by Sabir Ahmed Mir. A resident of Mishri Bahi village with 95 percent eyesight disability, Sabir is a living testimony of the famous adage, ‘when there’s a will, there’s a way’, and his confident and amazing performance stole the audience’s heart and Sabir will certainly serve as a source of inspiration to others.
After an enthralling group dance by school girls on a Kashmiri song, games for young children from amongst the audience commenced. The crowds cheered the young boys trying to outrun each other while precariously balancing lemons placed on a spoon which was clenched between their teeth and when small girls competed with each other to win the race by being the first to reach the finish-line and eating one of the many jalebis that were strung across there.
An impressive march past by students of Machhal High School marching smartly to the tune of “Kadam-Kadam Badhae Ja” served as a befitting grand finale of events presented by the young boys and girls. Thereafter the versatile Marathas of 56 RR, dressed in their traditional attire regaled the locals with an impressive display of Zumba, lazim and acrobatics.
In his address, the chief guest complimented the locals for fully cooperating with the army and gave out details of various projects that had been requested by them and were being undertaken by the army for improving the quality of life in far flung areas and remote villages. He also congratulated the participants for putting up such a great show and encouraged the winners by presenting them with prizes.
As the crowds dispersed and made their way home, the people could be seen stopping now and then to wish every army man they passed by with a loud “Jai Hind” or waving them goodbye and the personnel of 56 RR reciprocating with similar enthusiasm. From this spontaneous display of mutual affection one thing was clear- like elsewhere in J&K, the army-civil bonding in Machhal too was perfect!