One Kashmiri boy who begins from home, joined latter by three other boys from different states of India walked in to a snow sculpture competition in freezing Colorado in 2017 & 2018 in a row.
SRINAGAR: The parallels are uncanny. Just like the colourful Jamaican characters competing in the Winter Olympics in the iconic 1993 sports comedy Cool Runnings, four young men from India, a country known the world over for its hot, humid, tropical weather, walked in to an alien, winter wonderland. The protagonists in this situation, Zahoor Din Lone ,Mridul Upadhyay, Sunil Kushwaha, and Ravi Prakash, also struggled to raise money to fund their dream of competing in the Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championship in Colorado. But in the end, just like the characters in the movie, they managed to scrape the funds together, with a little help from friends and family. Here is the story of Team India-Callisto and how they went on to win hearts and minds at one of the world’s premier snow sculpture competitions.
How it all began
Our story starts on the campuses of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi in 2013. Mridul was working towards a degree in Engineering, Zahoor was knee-deep in Applied Arts while Ravi and Sunil were chipping and shaving away towards a degree in Fine Arts. Zahoor, from the Baramulla District of Jammu and Kashmir was the only one in the group who was already creating sculptures in snow when the four met. He got the others psyched about the idea as well and together they organised a snow fiesta in Gulmarg in 2014. But as with all things competitive, they have to step the ante up and so they set their eyes on the coveted Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championship. It is a long shot because in the competition’s 27-year history, no South Asian team has ever qualified. They practice hard on the slopes of Gulmarg, especially during the Chillai Kalan season, the coldest 40 winter days in the Kashmir valley, when the snow is the thickest and the air the driest making for perfect conditions for snow sculpting.
They draw up a plan. Sunil, using his background in making sculpture sketches an elaborate design they call The Making. It incorporates pillar-like columns and a wave signifying the various elements needed to building a nation like India. They submit their plans alongside 200+ competing teams from across the world and a few weeks later, they get a little notification saying that they would be the first Indian team to ever compete on this stage. But there is little time to celebrate. They only have four months before the competition. They need to organise themselves and so they reach out to government bodies, private organisations for help but they are turned away wherever they go. “We didn’t even hear back from a lot of places we applied for funding,” says Mridul. So they finally borrow from friends, take loans and save the best they can to finally get their visa and buy their tickets. And off they go!
Lights, camera, sculpture!
On 22 January, they fly from New Delhi to Paris, then on to Minneapolis before finally landing in frigid Denver. They drive 130km west to Breckenridge and from the very next day, they start working from 7am till 11pm on their ambitious project. Over five days they carve their design from a 20ton, 10x10x12ft block of hard snow. Mridul, Sunil and Ravi were not used to cold like this but they didn’t even have time to think about how uncomfortable they really were. “Our work is going to be at least 50 percent harder. The snow we had practiced on was a lot softer. But the snow in Colorado was a lot harder, more dense, and it would take a lot more muscle to cut through it,” thought Mridul. If they were to have a real shot at competing against the far more experienced teams from China, Mongolia, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Britain, Germany, the US, they had to work non-stop. The other competitors were amazed. “Isn’t India a warm country?” “Do you guys get any snow?” They were so impressed with their work ethic that they offered the Indian team their tools to help with their sculptures. 45,000 people watch as team India-Callisto work through the night on the last day of the competition to give the finishing touches to their piece.
The climax: winning hearts and minds
In the end they didn’t win the big prize. They didn’t even win second, third or the popular choice awards. However, they make such an impression on all the competing teams and the organisers with their warmth and sportsman-like spirit that they decide to give them a special honor. That is how Team India-Callisto, the first South Asian team to compete at the Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championship, went on to win the surprise Special Award. The team-members, competitors and organisers know that this isn’t the last they have seen from this team from this hot, humid, tropical country.
Interestingly Zahoor informed Kashmir Patriot that the team has been again for the third time in a row selected for the 2019 Breckenridge championship.