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Playing polo Prince-like may change
Gone are the days when both the British royalty and the Indian princely estates assembled in Calcutta to play Polo and have fun. In the 21st century the economic situation has changed ground rules of playing polo.

PRINCES PLAY and enjoy it. Polo is one of the royal games that claims a long line of descent from the hoary past to the present day. Never mind if a rule here or a guideline there has undergone a minor change. It may be acceptable to some but unacceptable to others. Nevertheless, all royal houses across Europe and Asia played polo more for a royal get together and less for winning or losing. In any case, cups of sterling silver were given away by the Royalty to all participating teams and payers too so that they had something to show to their kith and kin on return to their respective principality. Indeed, the winners and the runners up in the royal polo tournament had a trophy bigger than the teams that figured in the “also ran category”.

History is a record of events that happened. In other words, facts form a part of recorded history. What cannot be authenticated but has a strong backing by hearsay stories or myths so strong that even the King shudders to contradict. Such stories that lack backing of Truth are categorised as Legends. Their protagonists do not fight shy in proclaiming that “History is nothing but Legends agreed upon.”Indeed the polo playing fraternity has both history and Legend to back them and lovers of polo, who, by the way, are lovers of horses too, love to live in their dream world where nothing matters more than the four-legged animal, a thorough bred Arab that prefers to stand for lazying and relaxing on just three and a half legs. A real lover of the thorough-bred Arab stands on just one and a half leg, easy to identify from across the club lawns.

The history of horse polo is a good mix of facts and fiction. Indeed, it is an Asian game and the pre-Islamic Persians were good horsemen and were equally good at equestrian  sports. As the Persian empire traversed Asia from west to East, so did the game of horse polo. It was from Persia that the game went to Europe. The British had a large empire where the sun never set and they drew on the empire’s resources of man and animal both. The British traders took the game of horse polo to Argentina and there it became a national game. The Argentinians are so good at playing polo, breeding polo ponies and taking their mallet on every polo ground across the globe that real lovers of the game and the animal took time and money off to go to Argentina – the Mecca of horse polo.

In Bharat, the tiny princely state of Manipur and its capital at Imphal take the honour of being the original players of polo and the British just borrowed it from them.

“IMPHAL KANGJEBUNG”, that is written in bold letters at the entrance of the polo ground right in the centre of the city. Translated into English, it means THE GLORY OF IMPHAL.

Indeed the lovers of polo say: "Let other people play at other things, the King of games is still the game of Kings'. No wonder the most famous teams of horse polo even now belong to the erstwhile royal families of Rajasthan. The Jaipur House has been the leading participating captain of their team. The last Maharajah of the House of Kachchwahas, His Highness Maharajah Sawai Man Singh II was such a keen polo player that he breathed his last with his spurs on on the Jaipur Polo Ground while changing ponies.

The Royal House of Jodhpur was not far behind Jaipur but the latter collected the prize ponies of the former as he was their son-in-law.

In the days of the British Raj, the Viceroy and all dignitaries who mattered and were listed in the “Who is Who” list travelled from New Delhi and other provincial capitals to Calcutta, the erstwhile capital of the British India for Christmas. There both the British and the Indian teams played polo that was world class. Not only that, since the Royal Houses were present there in strength, it was time the match maker got busy. Many brilliant boys with a future and girls who were second to none in beauty and elegance looked around with prying eyes for suitable matches and some even tied the knot with purohits in toe chanting the Ved mantras.

I must make a mention here that in one of the grand champaigne parties, His Highness Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur asked the Maharani of Cooch Behar the hand of her young teenage daughter in marriage and was NOT disappointed. The shy but beautiful teenager named Ayesha was transformed overnight into Her Highness Gayatri Devi of Jaipur She earned a name and fame and was the most photographed member of the Royalty east of the Suez.

As a young Gentleman Cadet before playing polo on horseback, I was introduced to cycle polo. The players on normal cycles of world war II vintage which moved rather slowly at an elephantine pace slowed down the game beyond recognition. I was the power behind movement, wielded the mallet and made many attempts to push the ball into the adversary team’s goal post. Success in scoring a goal was a far cry. Riding a cycle of that vintage and calling the game a kind of polo just because players held mallets in their hands was like twisting the Queen’s English beyond recognition. The referee blew the long whistle rather early signifying the end of the non-moving polo. On our way back to barracks we just happened to see the horse polo and what a contrast of speed was there for everyone to see. I made up my mind then and there to change over to horse polo, notwithstanding  ominous warnings from the riding Ustad that many a fall off the horseback  was on the cards. Breaking bones could just be counted as a part of the bonus or grace marks. Never mind, I reassured myself and recited the relevant couplet to buttress my will to change over from cycle polo to the elite horse polo. The couplet runs thus:

“Girte hain shah-sawar hi, maidane jung mein.
Wo tifl kya giren ge jo ghutnon ke bal chalein.”

A free rendering into English would run thus:

In the battle field only a bold rider has a fall
Off the horseback,
How will the weaklings fall off a horseback,
when they meekly crawl on their knees.

Now I had made the decision and there was no going back on it come rain come shine.

Many variants of Polo were introduced in later years to prospective polo players. The most prominent forms were: The Elephant Polo, the Donkey Polo played mostly in countries where horses or ponies or elephants were either not available or were beyond the reach of the average polo player who did not belong to a royal household. The Indian Army has trained some prominent polo players who come of families with modest resources and they participate in the world class polo tourneys, thanks to subsidy received from the Army sports funds

The Elephant Polo is played in two countries only; India and Nepal. In Jaipur, India, the organisers of elephant polo tournaments fall back on the economic resources of the royal houses and the latter do not disappoint them. The elephant polo is a much photographed event but rather slow as it proceeds with the slow speed of an elephant. Nevertheless, an elephant has its special role in the Hindu psyche and people do come forward to take a look at anelehant and at times worship it as a representative of Lord Ganesha.

The Donkey Polo is not likely to find a place in the list of elegant games like Polo. However, I am told that in East Africa, a donkey is not only a beast of burden but also  a docile helper of all human beings.

The other day I came across a news item that some enthusiastic young men of Kigali, capital of Ruanda organised a Moto-Polo where players with matchets sat on the pillions and the rider in the driving seat did as directed by the player. Of course, when the two were new to each other and did not follow the signal given by a quick gentle push or by just a bite, the team concerned just shouted at each other and eventually lost the game and match. The modern mobikes gain speed in no time but the player cannot be a driving-rider unike the pony-polo. But the polo ponies or horses are rather expensive to buy and their maintenance is much more expensive. In case of Moto-polo one has to Pay USD 60/- to the driving rider if the 150cc silent motor cycle and get going with the game. Coordination between the matchet holder and the mobike rider is of immense importance.

Looking at the element of convenience and the amount of money spent on maintenance of polo-ponies, it will be a safe bet to predict that the day is not far off when Moto-Polo will replace Pony-Polo all over the world.

The match winning human being will be the same; be it on a horseback or on a mobike. We say that in a battle, the artillery gun plays an important role but it is the MAN BEHIND THE GUN who is the all-important battle-winning factor.

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