Daharmuna (Budgam), Sep 21: During its heydays, Dagital playground in Daharmuna, a beautiful outlying village in central Kashmir's Budgam district some 15 odd kilometres from city centre Srinagar used to be as much an attraction for sports lovers as the nearby Hokersar wetland would be for the migratory birds. And when it came to cricket, a relatively popular sport in the valley, the playground, besides providing a means of recreation to locals, used to host teams from across Kashmir's length and breadth and wear a festive look during peak season.
However, the sports activities came to a grinding halt around the year 2000 as water from Hokersar and the adjoining flood channel spilled over and completely submerged the sprawling ground and the adjacent paddy fields.
“Due to lack of the ground, the youth either stopped playing cricket or would visit the Narbal and Sozeith grounds. But the lack of space at these grounds forced a majority of the cricket lovers to bid goodbye to the gentleman’s game forever,” said Farooq Ahmad (52).
The year 2014 when Kashmir was hit by a devastating flood, however, came as a blessing in disguise for the aspiring cricketers and farmers of the area, as the government finally decided to dredge the flood channel.
As the huge machines were put to work by the dredging company, water started receding from the paddy field and the Dagital ground, reviving the memories among the elderly cricketers and bringing hope among the youth.
In the last years six years or so since the great flood, the restoration of Dagital playground to somewhat to its prime glory has been an epic display of volunteerism by the locals from Daharmuna amid a consistent apathy by the authorities and years of neglect.
The full fledged restoration work started in 2019 when locals started working free of cost to revive the playground. The playground was developed entirely from funds raised by villagers. Locals said they have spent around Rs 12 lakh to revive the playground. They say that despite several requests over the years, the local administration has overlooked their demand for developing a playground.
"Officials in the local administration instead of helping us came here multiple times to harass us. Even the Wildlife Department interfered and asked us to stop the work, " a local alleged.
The absence of a playground over the years, the locals said, was hurting the aspirations of several local youths who have the potential to represent at national level in different sports.
"We had to wait eagerly till the paddy harvest was done to have some free space, because there was no available playground otherwise," a local said.
Now with the revival of the ground, a lot of youngsters who were involved in drug addiction, have turned to sports and athletics, the locals said.
"For years, we have been asking officials to revive the playground but our requests fell on deaf ears. So, we decided to take charge of the matter. We went door-to-door to collect funds from the villagers and thankfully all the villagers contributed wholeheartedly,” said Tavseef Ahmad Khan, a local who has been at the forefront of the initiative.
The revival of the playground has not only attracted youth towards sports but also the seasoned cricketers of the area as well. The people aged 50 and above have made a separate team with the name “Senior XI” and have been competing with other young teams as well.
“I have been playing here since my childhood days along with other players, although not with the same vigour now as before. The ground used to be so lively in the past, but everything came to a halt after the floods. And years passed by, nobody came to our help and we too had lost hope," recalled Syed Sajad Bukhari, a seasoned wicket-keeper batsman of his time.
“When we started to revive the playground, a lot of obstructions came our way. We had to even build the road which leads to the playground. Sometimes, we felt like we won’t be able to revive it without government aid, but we did not lose hope and kept working to achieve our goal”, recounted another villager.
Locals expressed special gratitude to a few of their fellows namely, Parvaiz Ahmad Bhat, Zahoor Ahmad Shah, Reyaz Ahmad Wani and Tavseef Ahmad Khan for their exemplary role and dedication in reviving the playground.
“We had never imagined that we would get a chance to play cricket and football on this ground. I had some faint memories of this playground and our elders would talk about how they used to play on this ground and how huge it was back then. All thanks to volunteers and locals for putting in their valuable efforts to make the impossible possible”, said Basit Bukhari, a local youth.
In the past couple of years since 2019, when restoration work on the ground especially picked up, the villagers have been organizing local tournaments, something novel in the area, which has especially added to the hustle and bustle in the ground.
As many as 16 teams from different areas participated in a recent such tournament which attracted large crowds irrespective of age and gender. The event was also put online to reach out to the virtual audiences as well. The score updates and live coverage were also put online on sports apps and other social media platforms which gathered huge attention.
More recently, two cricket tournaments featuring 32 cricket teams from different regions of Kashmir were organized and villagers have been receiving huge appreciation for the commendable job they have done.
With COVID-19 restrictions in place elsewhere, such at-home contests provided a much needed source of recreation thereby adding importance to the playground and becoming an acknowledgement to the volunteers and villagers for putting in an effort in developing a playground, something that the government never did.
The playground has not only attracted people to sports only but fitness and athletics especially women. People visit the playground in the early hours for jogging and running. Government physical teachers have been training local people about the physical exercises daily in the morning time.
While the playground is back alive and kicking, the locals hope that the government, whose task has been eased by the local volunteers, now focuses on the infrastructure part. “It is time that the authorities nurture talent here, on the ground,” said a local.