There is something quite regal about the sport of polo. Yet, it does require time, money and infrastructure. Polo players from the region share their thoughts,
Very few adventures afford the challenge that polo does. Riding a beast, controlling its mind; a mallet in hand and eye on the ball; horses, horsemen and horsepower, need we say more? Not that the sport needs an image makeover, but with polo ponies and a field the size of 10 football grounds, it definitely needs infrastructure. And like any other sport, it needs sponsors. As the polo match, as part of the 2nd edition of the Punjabi Military Literature Festival takes off, we get talking to the polo players from the region.
Says Col Navjit Singh Sandhu, organiser and also one of the players at the polo match happening in Patiala, “It’s a complete team sport and one that gives you access to the world.” He is also the former honorary secretary of the Polo Association and currently making efforts to revive the sport in the state of Punjab. Having been playing roughly for three decades now, after he joined NDA in 1991, he has seen the ups and downs of the game.
B-town actor and Haryana lad Randeep Hooda has been as vocal of his passion for polo and ponies as he has been of his profession, acting. Talking of both, in the same breath, whenever possible, “I was acting in school and riding horses. I am 39 now, and I am acting and riding horses. I am still the same, doing the same things I love,” shared the boy from Motilal Nehru School of Sports, during one of his promotional visits to Chandigarh in 2016.
It was sheer love for the game that made Maninder S Sethi travel everyday from Ludhiana to Chandigarh for four months to learn riding. It was sheer accident that introduced him to polo and raw passion that made him take it up. “My first encounter with polo was in 2013 when I happened to be in Jaipur for business,” he shares, also one of the organisers of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Polo Premier Challenge held in March 2014.
“Well-bred horses, good riders, large fields and conducive environment, not to forget the rich history, Punjab has it all when it comes to polo. It’s time to put the state back on the map,” he adds, as he further shares his plans to revive the sport with a polo club to be set up in Ludhiana next year.
King of Games
Col Rupi Brar, former Captain of India’s national polo team, grew up in the good old days of large landholdings. With even his great grandfather being a polo player and with a stable of 120 ponies, little wonder, ever since he can remember, he could get into the saddle!
“However, competitive polo happened only post NDA, which I joined in 1961,” shares the Arjuna Awardee, who represented India’s national team at UK, France, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, among several other countries. “I held the handicap of +5 for over 15 years and left competitive polo in April 1996 as a +5,” he gets us started on how Indian Army is the backbone of polo with it being an expensive sport, to say the least. “It’s not called the ‘King of Games’ for nothing. Except for ice-hockey, it’s the fastest game in the world and requires quick thought, action, among several other qualities like patience and integrity,” he adds.
Bright things ahead
While many rue the sport doesn’t exist because it needs large piece of land, which comes very expensive in Punjab, efforts are still on to revive it. “I am helping PPS Nabha start a programme. Then efforts are also on for reviving the polo ground, with horses and riding instructors,” adds Col Navjit Singh Sandhu. While the game inarguably was at its peak during the reign of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, now with corporates jumping in, things are looking up. “Today, an average polo player can make about Rs 9-10 lakh in a month,” adds Col Rupi Brar. That’s promising!