A Tribute To Shylo Malsawmtluanga: The ‘Inspiration’ of Mizoram
First of all, I am not going to write about Shylo Malsawmtluanga’s story. Rather, I am going to write about how he changed the story of my life. Writing about myself, I will admit that this piece will be filled with the words ‘I’, ‘me’ and the likes, for which I apologize beforehand.
If you are a male in the Mizo society, it is likely that you would have been called ‘Mama’ at some point in your life. There are innumerable ‘Mama(s)’ among the Mizos, both inside Mizoram and abroad, and of all these, the most well-known Mama has to be S. Malsawmtluanga.
If you are a football fan in Mizoram, Mama needs no introduction to you; in fact, he may be the first Mizo to have earned the title of ‘football star’. The craze around him among the Mizo people may have been at its peak when he was picked up by East Bengal, which also happened to be the exact moment when I, like many young Mizo boys, got acquainted to Mama.
The tale of Despair
I spent my primary and middle school days in a Mizo medium government school, and being born and raised in the countryside, I thoroughly neglected my English. I would pick firewood or swimming over studying any day of the week. Thanks to my parents, I had a chance to finish my 8th grade in one of the best private schools in Mizoram, although ‘thankful’ may not be the accurate term for what I felt as I had one of the most fraught experiences living in a hostel.
English, not being my forte, I faced many problems- I would fail to grasp punch lines as my friends laughed their guts out, and naturally, I was at the bottom of the rankings in class. It still pains me to recall all the retributions and mockeries I had to endure because of my failure to grasp the English language, and the tears I shed out of loneliness and desperation during those days.
Friends made me nervous, and teachers only made me feel demoralized. I failed in terms of funds, fashion, skills, and conduct; essentially, I failed in almost every aspect of life as I knew it. I despised company, developed rock-bottom self-esteem and my relocation to the big city only made me feel smaller in the end.
Even Mama can do it
Eventually, we had our examinations, and I maintained a steady record of utter malfunction. It did not take long for the news of my failure to reach my parents, and when it finally did, my concerned father quickly came to see me. That was when this young lad would change my life forever.
I can no longer be sure which magazine it was, but I think it was the ‘Lengzem’ monthly which my father had brought with him to show me. It had a picture of a footballer offering a prayer of gratitude to God after having scored in the Kolkata Derby; the lad was none other than S. Malsawmtluanga. Besides this, he had with him a bunch of newspaper clippings from various local newspapers, all on this particular individual.
That night, I started reading about Mama’s story - his solitary life in Kolkata, the titanic hardships he faced during his stay at the Tata Football Academy and his fight for survival in a world of strangers. What I read that night in my confinement did not only intrigue me, but gave me huge amount of inspiration. I had stumbled upon a priceless treasure; it felt like a long-awaited drink after a seemingly endless workout.
It was strange to find that Mama’s tribulations were a lot like what I had faced. I smiled when I read about how he would spend an entire day without speaking a word, not because he had nothing to say, but because he could not speak a word in English. I was won over when I read about how he fought solitude and isolation with determination and pure courage.
I immediately began to find new hope and fortitude in myself, traits I never knew I had in me, and these traits wrapped me up entirely and sparked in me a fire that would never burn out. I could not remember the last time I felt so fervent to face what was ahead of me, and the words I read that night still bring me out of my deepest miseries today.
Get up and stand
I cannot claim that reading about Mama’s life story spontaneously brought me ahead in life, but I can tell you that it helped me to take my first glorious step towards success.
The picture of a praying Mama adorned the wall next to my top floor bunk bed; I would steal glances at it as I left for class, proceeded towards the study room and finally before going to sleep, and every time it would rekindle that flame of grit in me.
I was still hopeless when it came to English; I continued my failing streak in my tests and kept up my record of detention, but I was no longer alone. I had Mama praying for me beside my bed and each time I saw him do that, I would remind myself that his prayers for me were going to be answered.
In the year I crawled past my 10th grade, the MZP (Mizo Students’ Organization) hosted a program at Vanapa Hall in Aizawl, and the chief guest there was none other than the celebrity footballer S. Malsawmtluanga, who to me was my dear friend Mama.
I was beyond keyed up when I learnt that my school was being invited to the event as well. There he gave a short speech of encouragement to all of us, and that was the first and only time I ever saw him. I shared my desire to have a photograph taken with him and after waiting for the usual formal snapshots, I finally got my chance to be in the same picture with him, albeit along with a bunch of other students as well. Being the default recluse in the group, I never got a copy of the picture- the one with me and Mama in it.
I transferred to another school for my 11th grade, and the only news I ever got of Mama was from the daily newspapers that were delivered to the hostel. When the LPS television channel hosted a live phone-call session with him, I was, naturally, among the few who could not get through to him. And on the day he got happily married, I was among the many who shared in his jubilation.
After he had moved through teams like Salgaocar, Mohun Bagan and Chirag United, and other Mizo footballers like Robert, Vanlalrova, Jerry and Malsawma began to step into the spotlight, it was clear that Mama’s celebrity had begun to quiet down.
Now that I have my own television set without anyone to put me in check, I would constantly keep an eye on the I-League fixtures to try and watch Mama during his games, but regrettably, his appearances always coincide with my working hours. The last time I saw him play was the season before last against Prayag United, where, after having scored one for his team, he ran head-on against the vertical goal bar and injured himself.
Mama may not be the best Mizo footballer at present; nor is he the highest-paid. It is however, safe to say that he is the most loved among them; his sheer integrity and tireless zeal are exactly why he continues to be loved so much. He had once, without ever knowing it, won the heart of a misplaced boy and given him new hope. I do hope that he would continue to touch the lives of many Mizo youngsters, as he had done in my case. For providing me with some much-needed inspiration, and for changing the course of my life, I will always be grateful to my dear friend Mama.
The story was originally written in Mizo
English Translation: Hannah Lalhlanpuii