Srinagar: What do you do when there is a frozen water reservoir next to your home? You step on it, you slip, and you fall, and you get better at slipping. Like in the case of 27-year old Noor Jahan, who became a national level ice hockey player.
Currently designated as the goalkeeper of Indian women Ice Hockey team, her success dates back to the age when she was fourteen years old.
“We had a water reservoir in the neighborhood that would freeze in winters for three months and my cousin brother would go there as he was a good ice hockey player. He was my inspiration and that’s how I reached where I am today,” Noor told Free Press Kashmir.
That is not the only specialty of this Ladakh born girl. As soon as summer arrives, Noor drops the hockey and picks instruments used in art restoration.
She has been handling a hockey stick since her childhood and at a later stage she got her fingers dipped in colors and started restoring wall paintings after she completed her graduation.
Noor did her graduation in commerce from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce affiliated with University of Delhi. It was during this phase of her life she decided to become an restorer too.
In order to satisfy the artist inside her, Noor, just after her graduation returned back to Ladakh. She joined a group of other restorers who had come there to work.
However, Noor went on to give her hobby a professional colour by studying art from Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management. Currently she is pursuing her PhD in art conservation from National Museum Institute of New Delhi.
“Even in grad school I was always sketching. I didn’t belong to that place and I couldn’t relate to it and the moment I got back to my hometown I couldn’t keep myself from art and I become a freelance restorer,” she explains.
Noor has also worked with many international NGOs and has restored art on the walls of Golden Temple as well. Now owning a conservation studio under the name ‘Shesrig Ladakh,’ Noor along with her partner Wajeeda Tabassum is intending to undertake different projects of art restoration throughout the year.
“We have plans to work all through the year, while at the same time taking interns and giving them opportunity that we had difficulty in getting at our time.”
Apart from being passionate about art, she took it up as she had nothing to do during summers. Also, lack of infrastructure made it almost impossible to play during hot months.
“When I started playing Ice Hockey, I had no equipment. I had to borrow them from my cousin and later on when I started playing officially in Indian Women’s Ice Hockey team, I had to rely on second hand skates, sticks and defense gear,” Noor recalled.
The history of ice hockey in Ladakh dates back to the early 70s when the Ladakh Scouts Battalion of the Indian army, who were posted in the higher reaches of the border regions, started playing the game. Legend has it that in the early 1970s these scouts tied self-made blades under their army boots, cut a puck out of their old rubber soles and used plastic bottles nailed to pieces of wood as rudimentary sticks. It was only after 1985, when Ladakh Winter Sports Club (LWSC) was founded and things got a little more organized.
“I started to think of it very seriously only in the year 2000. Ice Hockey was brewing in Ladakh and I was very young at that time. I kick started this as the part of my career by joining Ladakh Winter Sports Club,” Noor said.
And it was in 2006, when Noor joined the Indian Ice Hockey Team as it’s goalkeeper.
Since then, she had been lauded many times. But it was in 2016 that Noor was adjudged the ‘best goalkeeper’. In 2017, she was declared as the ‘player of the match’ against New Zealand.
There are no artificial rinks available for the team. It’s only during the winter months, the game comes alive. Noor mentions how difficult it was for her team to play at the international level for they are homegrown players and have never put steps on an artificial smooth ice hockey rink like that before.
“In 2016 we participated in Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia where we had to play against international players who are used to play on smooth artificial rinks but we had not and it became very problematic for us to get a grip of that rink,” she said.
Noor also said that in order to get into the international event, she and her teammates had to resort to crowd funding.
She also lamented about how lack of funding has put the players at risk. Funds were so scarce that a couple of years back they used hockey pads with no helmets.
“Neither helmets nor knee and elbow pads were used by the players. And there used to be injuries. But still somehow the game has sustained,” Noor pointed out.
She added, “Players are not only suffering because of the lack of equipment but infrastructure wise also. The construction of an Olympic-sized ice stadium which started in 2006, in the outskirts of Leh has been put on hold due to lack of funding.”
So Noor, with the help of like minded people, decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I, along with my other female team members, have already started a society called ‘Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation’ (LWIHF) that includes thirty other women with whom I have been able to train hundred girls so far. It is amazing for us to have trained girls who are as young as six,” she said.
Noor has been part of the tournament played at world’s highest natural rink ‘Karzoo’ which is an irrigation pond in the summer at a height of 11,500 feet (3,484 m). While ice hockey is an indoor sport most parts of the world, in Leh, December-January is the only time that it can be seriously pursued in the region.
“Earlier, we would get three months of harsh winter that would give us perfect frozen rinks to play on but with time this duration is also decreasing,” she adds.
To bring this sport out of the ‘Seasonal Sport’ category, Noor in association with her society LWIHF have been working very hard.
“We have taken this matter to the Hill Counsel of Ladakh. We are asking for land where we will build a concrete roller hockey rink for summers and in winters it would be frozen for ice hockey,” Noor explains.
She also informed that there are no permanent coaches in Ladakh for the sport.
“They come in as voluntaries from other states and countries,” Noor says.
Ice hockey was introduced in India in the 1920s by the British in Shimla. Later, during the 1970s, it was introduced to Indian Soldiers as a means of remaining fit in winter. It was only after the turn of the century that Ice Hockey gained exposure with the formation of IHAI. Today it is played at the national level in Ladakh and Shimla.
Apart from infrastructure problems, the girls have been discriminated on the basis of gender too.
“When the club would receive equipments, boys were the one and only to get them. It was not being distributed fairly,” Noor complained.