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TIME-OUT

A field day in Coorg

Though it may be the largest hockey tournament in the world, calling it a `family festival' is just right, says KRISHNAKUMAR.



The Kootandas bask in the limelight ... the victory lap ...

WHEN culture and sport meet, there's nothing like it. So when 69-year-old Pandanda Kuttappa decided in late 1996, that all the Kodava families should get together, he did not think beyond hockey.

Since the Kodavas were scattered all over the country, Kuttappa, an ex-State Bank of India employee and first division hockey referee, thought of a brilliant idea to bring them together. Since Coorg (Kodagu) was the cradle of Indian hockey, with over 50 players from the region going on to represent the nation so far, seven of whom were Olympians, and to lure all families to one place every year, he conceived a hockey festival where families would be pitted against each other.

KRISHNAKUMAR

... the Nellamakkadas score.

In the year of its inception the response was lukewarm. There were no more than 60 families who participated. In the subsequent years, the festival assumed such monstrous proportions (one year, 350 families took part in the festival) that it found place in the Limca Book of Records. It was recognised as the largest hockey tournament in the world. This has been referred to the Guinness Book of World Records too.

All teams were fully kitted, and any member from a Kodava family could participate. In the case of women participating, it was/is left to the person to decide whether she would play for the father's family or the husband's. Though this year's festival had just one female player, Shilpa Bopaiah, a goalkeeper for the Kootanda family, the cup in 2000 was really high on oestrogen. It had 30 women participants. Says Shilpa, "In the beginning I was a little hesitant, but then playing for the family is such a unique experience, that I gave in."



... and with the trophy.

This year, the Maleyanda festival (you would be embarrassing the Kodava host if you unwittingly called it a tournament) was held in the month of May and was set in the scenic hamlet of Garagandur in Madikeri, 260 km from Bangalore (for the complete results visit www.kodava.org/ccgi-bin/kmaley/maleyresults.asp).

If you want a stable job and enjoy life to the hilt, the weatherman's job in Madikeri should be your ideal pick. It is almost always raining in these parts of the country. Sometimes it rains for 16 hours a day. It is always drizzling and when it is not drizzling, it is pouring.

Hidden in between mountains and trees, the pitch was a trough bang in the centre of misty hills rising on all sides. Beyond the hills in the mountains were acres and acres of coffee plantations. The host family this year was the Maleyanda family, one of the smaller ones comprising 50 member families. Maleyanda Joyappa, one of the organisers said: "We spent around Rs. 13 lakhs to organise the festival. And from the sponsors and raffle tickets we hope to recover around Rs. three lakhs. The contributing families would share the rest of the cost. Families contribute according to their capacity and will."

After 20 days of knockout matches, the field was reduced to eight families (the names of which make even East European names sound like monosyllables) If every Kodava family decides to send a team, then there would be — brace yourself — 1,095 teams.



... Kootanda goalkeeper Shilpa Bopaiah, the only lady out of 4,000 players.

The teams most often consist of a national player, state players, first division players, and school/university players. The teams with a national player were better off, as was evident from the showing of the Kootanda family, which decimated all opponents. K.K. Poonacha, former national player, was dictating play irrespective of which team was in possession. Children from the opposition made sure that they neither got too close to him while in possession nor stood anywhere in the vicinity when he had possession.

One of Poonacha's goals stood out. The goalkeeper, five foot by three foot with gear, laboriously laid himself down on the ground to block a sweltering drive that never came. Poonacha just scooped the ball to the top of the net. It took an eternity for the goalie to realise what had happened.

Midway through the second match of the day, the crowd had filled up and there were quite a few good-looking girls there. Most of these women were here to look for a match. In Kodava culture, the right time to see a girl is when she is smiling, and for the man, it is when he is in physical action. And hockey is an excellent pretext for this to be carried out. We were assured that at least six or seven matches are made every year.

On the day of the final between the Kootanda and the Nellamakkada families, the stands were filled as the family members trooped in. Members of both the families exchanged pleasantries and sat together to support their teams.

This tournament really does wonders to the families. Kodandara Kariappa is just one of the people who has benefitted from the tournament. Says Kariappa: "We are a huge family and somehow about four families lost touch with each other. We weren't in touch for years together. Then one day, out of the blue, we met at the Kodava Cup and we sorted out everything. Now we are back as a united family. The cup is really a huge unifier."

As the match goes on, Kuttappa, who had come all the way from Bangalore, reminisces: "I was really disturbed by the state of hockey at that point of time (1997) and the lack of chances for Kodava youngsters. Then I thought about it and decided that we did not need others to lift up our tradition and that it was up to us to encourage our youngsters. That was when I decided to put all my savings in the inaugural festival. From then on, the number of Kodavas in clubs and first division hockey has increased significantly."

There were a few skirmishes with the referee and the Nellamakkada family showing that the festival does not lack the competitive spirit even though it is a family affair. In the end Kootanda walked away with the fourth title.

Olympian C.S. Poonacha made no bones about the fact when he said that the Kodava Cup had done more for Indian hockey than all other organisations put together. "We have so many sports complexes and facilities. But nothing can match what this festival brings to hockey."


Those who exited immediately after the match missed some real fun. The Kootanda team broke into a song and jive, which resembled a snake dance, with their traditional flutes and drums. The elders and women in the family also joined in the celebration. Later, after all the prizes were distributed, the Kodava flag, which had been fluttering high all this while, was folded and handed over to the next host, the Biddanda family.

An editorial in a local paper the next day said it all. "If God wanted to play hockey, he would opt to play it in such serene, sublime surroundings."

Final day

THE Kootanda family, three-time winners, won the Maleyanda Kodava Cup hockey event at the festival beating defending champion Nellamakkada 3-2 in the final on Sunday, May 23, 2004. Former international, Kootanda Poonacha, struck first for the winners in the 19th minute, but Somanna restored parity for Nellamakkada, converting a penalty corner in the 21st minute. In the second half, full back Muddaiah scored off a penalty corner to put the Nellamakkadas ahead in the 56th minute. But Kootanda equalised through Santosh in the 64th minute. Bopanna scored the winner in the 66th minute. Kootanda has now won the event four times in eight editions. Earlier, Mandepanda beat Palanganda by 2-0 to finish third.

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