As I approached the Chowrasta Mall from my hotel, I could see the colourful flags flattering above the Mall. They were flags of all 32 nations participating in the FIFA World Cup 2018. That was a lovely scene as there were flags of all participating nations – not only the stronger ones.
As I headed towards Glenary’s for my breakfast I noticed that the entire stretch of Nehru Road is also covered with the same flags. I knew about the amazing craze for football in this hill town from my previous visits but have never seen such enthusiasm. Last time when I was here during the FIFA World Cup in Brazil I saw individual enthusiasm where almost everyone hung a flag of the country they were supporting. It was impossible to find a red flag of Tunisia or the tricolour of Senegal. This time, it was not so. To me, it was a marvellous way to show support to the game of football. The hill town of Darjeeling has been a true ambassador of the beautiful game and they have kept their passion alive. I was in a belief that it was done by some citizen forum to create an ambience for the biggest competition of Football.
Later, when I was seating on a bench at the Mall, I came to know the real truth between this colourful getup of the beautiful city and that made me love it more than before. The cause was much bigger than simply enjoying the game of football;
It all started with the need to provide health and education to the marginalised people living in the tough terrains of Darjeeling. Deven Gurung, the President of Darjeeling North Point School Alumni Association felt the need to provide health care and education facilities to the poorest people of the city. In the far-flung areas of the hills of Darjeeling, many poor people live who do not have enough money to treat their illness, because of their financial criticality as well as because of the lack of communication they can never turn up in the city to get their treatment. A lot of life is lost this way. Gurung and his colleagues in the DNPSAA felt the need for a vehicle which can reach the remote areas, conduct the medical tests and diagnose the illness of the poor for free. The idea of ‘Clinic on Wheels’ was born with that. The World Cup Town Celebration was still not conceived.
The idea of the ‘Clinic on Wheels‘ was basically to create an ambulance with lab testing facilities. They have finalised a list of 40 medical tests which can be done in the ambulance and the reports will be provided to the patients then and there. A Doctor, a nurse and a lab technician will be posted in the ambulance itself and they will travel to the remote areas of Darjeeling hills treating poor for free. To raise enough fund for this facility, DNPSAA invited all heads of education in the city to a meeting on 2nd May 2018 at their alma matter – The Saint Josephs School, North Point Darjeeling. The meeting saw the amazing response and DNPSAA soon conducted a presentation to the students at each school. Their primary idea was to sensitise the students to contribute to creating enough fund for the cause.
There was a need to request a monetary contribution from the students and to bring clarity in the process, the DNPSAA found a method. The FIFA World Cup was around the corner and the hill was starting to wear the colours. They utilised the occasion and planned a Football March. ‘Darjeeling-The World Cup Town‘ was in place. For the event, each and every student were requested to register for Rs. 300/- and they were given a Flag of a participating nation, a brochure and a pack of lunch. They were asked to wear the jersey of the country they support and bring the flag given to them on the day of the parade – 2nd June.
On the morning of 2nd June, the Chowrasta and its entire surrounding were changed. It was an unprecedented response and more than 3000 students became part of the long-march that completely changed the colours of the hills that day. The response was overwhelming even before the event. With the great cause, many NGOs came forward with helping hands- MARG (who work on human trafficking), Namaste Foundation (a social service group), Shankar Foundation (working for AIDS patients), and Positive Heart Foundation. Other than these, many activity groups such as ZUMBA group, Enfield bikers group, Super Bikers groups, BMX stunt group, Scooty Girls group and many more also came forward to make the event even more colourful. Moutain Bike Rally, Scooty Rally, Cosplay, Freestyle skills performance, music performance, Zumba performance were organised along with the parade to make the event a grand one. The most successful of the events was surely the Cheerleading Competition – it was a massive hit.
‘Darjeeling – The World Cup Town’ was a massive success. The colours of football encouraged many locals also take part in the event and contribute to the cause. The colourful event drew good media coverage and Darjeeling truly presented itself as the footballing city. The Parade, the competitions, the music, the dance all were to welcome the greatest football show on the earth and the real cause behind all these was hidden. That, however, did not upset the organisers – the fund was raised, and later the ambulance was also purchased. There was enough money to run the service along with the wages of the doctor, nurse and the technician. ‘Darjeeling – The World Cup City’ – which started as a fundraising event turned out to be a grand welcome party for the World Cup but underneath it, it served its purpose.
The Queen of Hills again proved its worth. It gave us one more reason to fall in love with it. I wish all the luck for ‘Clinic on Wheel’ project and wish the city again put on the colours of football four years later to welcome the World Cup again.