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The test of a man

As “Polo in India” reaches coffee tables, Anuj Kumar takes a chukker with its authors

In a melee! The pictures in the book bring alive different facets of the game

If you want to judge the character of man, try him in a polo field. These are not the opening lines of a television commercial promoting a cigarette brand. This is how Abu’l Fazal described the game which was used by Emperor Akbar as a means to check the promptitude and decision making skills of his courtiers.

Over the centuries the game hasn’t lost its regal touch, and to preserve it for posterity, Roli Books has come up with “Polo in India”, a coffee table book under its Lustre series.

Written by polo player and commentator Jaisal Singh, the book has some riveting pictures of the sport collected by Priya Kapoor from different sources.

Agreeing with Fazal, Jaisal says, “It is the oldest team sport known to man and is a contribution of India to the world of sports. Here you are always on your toes though literally you are on a horse.” He continues, “But it is not all about brute force. The game tests your strategic and tactical skills and above all team spirit.”

And glamour? “It is an essential part of it, as polo is a spectator’s sport. Only the patrons keep changing. Earlier it was the royalty today corporate sponsorship has also come in.

Ancient form

Also I must add as a player it is your ticket to the world as you get to play at exciting places in different parts of the world.” Talking of corporate sponsorship which invariably brings in Bollywood stars to the events, Jaisal says there is nothing wrong in corporate support. “But they should promote teams and players. Today they are concentrating only on events and tournaments.”

Only a few know that the game originated in Manipur, where it was called pulu and still flourishes among the tribesmen. Jaisal informs other centres are Ladakh and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir where the tribesmen of Baltistan, Chitral and Gilgit are keeping the game alive in its ancient form. “Unlike cities where it is an expensive sport because you need money to breed horses, here it is a game of the masses as horses/ponies are relatively easily available.” Jaisal says it is because of these tribes that the game survived after the Moghul Empire. “The British saw these people playing in the North East and developed interest in the sport. And after Independence, it is probably the Army support that has kept the game going.”

Priya says in a way the sport was a great leveller. “As when it came to polo the British never minded playing with the Indians.” Priya has taken care to bring in the international flavour with pictures of Winston Churchill and Prince Charles playing polo. Also how the game is being revived in Mongolia.

The book is full of action pictures on and off the field. When we say off the field it means pictures of Gayatri Devi supporting her husband. But in terms of excellence that gives you goose pimples the best is the picture of Major Jaswant Singh and Col. Jogendra Singh of Patiala Tigers. The two are the only Indians to have attained +10 goal handicap, the maximum achievable in the sport. Jaisal explains, “The handicap ranges from -2 to +10. It doesn’t depend on the number of goals a player has scored. It is given on the basis of overall skill. You can judge the skill of these two greats from the fact, that among the current lot, the best Indian player has a handicap of 5 and there are only 10-12 players in the world to have attainted the maximum handicap at this time.”

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