Balling in Kashmir - For the Love of the Game

Twenty four year old Aukif Khan is one of the most gifted basketball players to come out of the Kashmir Valley. But for five long months last year, he lived in fear.

For five months Khan and his family, like tens of thousands of other families in Srinagar, were trapped inside their homes. Schools and places of work were inaccessible; even catching up with friends was near impossible. Khan had a half court set up in his backyard, and despite having little else to do over the long summer, he had to resist the temptation to shoot hoops in the day; he worried about the attention a dribbling ball or a clanging rim could attract.

“I couldn’t practice during the day,” said Khan. “It was usually silent outside, and any sound could attract the wrong kind of attention from people in a place where gunshots and tear gas shell sounds were common. Anytime, stones could come flying across the road into my house.”

So, Khan waited for night to fall. The curfew, he says, lifted at 7 p.m., and by 8 p.m. everyone would find their way on to the street shouting slogans in protest. He used the racket outside to mask the noise coming from his own backyard: dribbling, shooting, missing, swishing.

Deeper into the night, his parents - and many others in the neighbourhood - would turn off all lights at home in a symbolic ‘blackout’ protest against the curfew. But Khan kept grinding. “In the dark, I played alone under the moonlight, shooting hoops and working on my touch.”

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