In the Kashmir neighbourhood of Indian football legend Kakroo

Koker Bazar in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir’s largest city, is associated with traditional markets and centuries-old wooden houses.

The area is also known for producing Majeed Kakroo, one of the finest footballers to turn up for India who had to leave the game at the height of his career due to militant threats.

Decades ago, Koker Bazar was a congested residential locality with few shops. Just a few hundred metres away from the political centre stage of Kashmir’s historic Lal Chowk (Red Square), the area served as the hub of its traditional handicraft industry with an emerging new business class.

The neighbourhood also shared a passion for football.

It was from these narrow alleys of Koker Bazar that Kakroo, now 60, emerged as a footballer during his teen.

Most of the residents from the neighbourhood of bustling streets have now moved out, mainly driven by the urge of settling in urbanised residential areas.

The area now serves as a full-fledged market thronged by tourists. Several houses made of mud, wood and bricks still have their original structure intact, standing as a testimony to the region’s past.

The neighbours credit Kakroo, who became the first Kashmiri to have captained the national team during the 1987 Nehru Cup, for igniting the enthusiasm for football in their area.“When he would play at the local ground, there would be spectators from all over Kashmir. There would be no space and people would climb trees to watch the game. There was so much craze about the game,” Ahmad said, recalling memories from the late 1970s and early 80s.

According to residents, Kashmir was relatively a peaceful region in those years, with political discontent against Indian rule running latent.

There was a bustling life – cinemas functioned until late at night and public parks would be brimming with people even after dark.

Stadiums and streets were abuzz with young men playing cricket and football. There was no presence of the Indian military within the public spaces, unlike today.

One of the entry points of Kakroo’s neighbourhood which housed Kashmir’s oldest Palladium Cinema until the late 1980s has now turned into a security garrison.

Kakroo also played for top Indian clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. As the football wizard continued to make progress after representing the two clubs, Kakroo earned a national team call-up in 1982.

He scored against China and Malaysia in the 1983 President’s Cup and played for India for eight years.

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