Weeks after helping Aizawl FC achieve an unprecedented I-League triumph which sparked joyous scenes across the football-crazy state of Mizoram, Aizawl FC's Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta have turned saviours for the state now crippled by catastrophe.
On Tuesday, heavy rainfall caused flash floods with the Khawthlangtuipui River submerging over 350 houses in the Tlabung sub-division of Lunglei area of Mizoram, leading to eight persons losing their life.
The whole of south Mizoram — Serchhip, Lunglei, Lawngtlai and Siaha districts — and the eastern Champhai district bordering Myanmar remained cut off from the rest of the country for the third day on Thursday due to landslides at many places, affecting over 200 families.
Understanding the gravity of the problems facing the people of the state where they had realised their footballing dreams, Aizawl FC's Mumbai-based footballers Rane and Mehta decided to start a fundraising campaign in association with ketto.org — an organisation which aids people raise funds for any cause — to ease the woes of the crisis-stricken people of Mizoram.
On Thursday, through a Facebook post, Rane made an open appeal urging people to make contributions to the relief fund for Mizoram or at least spread the word regarding the option to enable more people to contribute for the cause.
On being contacted, Rane told Firstpost that as soon as the news about the disaster in Mizoram reached him, he and Mehta made up their minds to lend a helping hand.
"In my time with Aizawl FC, the people of Mizoram gave me so much love. Everyone recognised me on the streets there. During the matches, the way the people of Mizoram turned up in numbers to support us, which was incredible. It was due to their support that we won the title. I felt this was my time to give something back. So as soon as the people from ketto got in touch, we wasted no time in setting up this fund," Rane revealed.
Mehta echoed his teammates' thoughts suggesting that setting up a fund was a "good thing to do" and there was no hesitation even for a moment. "Those people in Mizoram elevated us to the status of champions. So we had to do it. I feel they deserve this," Mehta told Firstpost.
"Whenever Jayesh and I went out for dinner or anything else, the people gathered around us, clicked selfies with us. They gave us a feeling of being professional footballers. So Mizoram will always hold a special place in our hearts," he added.
Both Rane and Mehta had never played outside Mumbai in the I-League before moving to Aizawl FC at the start of the 2016/17 season. The relocation to a place as distinctly varied from Mumbai as Aizawl came with its share of difficulties, but thanks to the warmth shown by the locals of Mizoram, it became an easier ride for the Mumbai-based footballers.
"At the start it was very tough. I have been born and brought up in Mumbai, so adjusting there was difficult. But the management, fans and the people of Aizawl helped us a lot in feeling comfortable," said Mehta.
"The people there were so welcoming that we never felt we came from outside. It was like a home for us," added Rane.
The duo aim to collect at least Rs 5 lakh within a month through the fund, so that the basic necessities of the affected people like food and clothing are met.
The former Mumbai FC pair is doing all it can to get more and more people involved to boost their campaign, thus enabling them to provide help on a bigger scale put forward a stronger and bigger helping hand in quick time.
Rane has promised to get more Aizawl FC players on board to help promote their fund, and is confident of fresh forces joining hands. Mehta, on the other hand, has already sent messages to Mizoram-born AIFF Player of the Year Jeje Lalpekhlua and Mumbai City FC teammate Sunil Chhetri to contribute while also promoting the campaign.
"I've already texted Jeje and Chhetri. I plan to give the Aizawl FC team manager a call too tomorrow, to see what more can be done," Mehta divulged.
The duo's noble deed has received overwhelming backing with Mehta confirming the receipt of a hefty amount within hours of making the post.
"The response so far has been amazing. We have already received around forty-fifty thousand rupees. Hopefully all will progress well and we will be able to help the people of Mizoram," he signed off by saying.
With the uncertainty surrounding the structure of Indian football, it's unclear whether Rane and Mehta will be at Aizawl FC next season, but irrespective of what happens, Rane and Mehta with their act have etched themselves in the hearts of the Mizo people.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 12:47 PM