SPICE OF LIFE: The best part was the polo trips to Meerut and Delhi, wherein we escaped the IMA cadet’s tough life for a month or so
Polo is known as the sport of kings. There was another way to be a polo player without being a king or a rich man. The Indian Army, following the traditions left by the British, maintained a number of polo teams that played in various venues during winter.
I picked up the sport at the Indian Military Academy (IMA). I was already an accomplished horseman thanks to being the son of an army officer. I got into the sport to escape the unarmed combat classes conducted in the afternoon. I was a quick learner and soon a part of the IMA polo team. Apart from myself, there was Rupinder Brar (Rupi), Ajinder Randhawa (Randy), Gurcharan Sohi (Prince) and Dalip Tung, who was not in our course.
Thrice a week, we got to play polo with three officers, making up the eight required to form two teams: The commandant, the equitation officer and the academy adjutant, Major Maharaj Kumar Bhawani Singh (Bubbles), the crown prince of the Jaipur royal family. We were indeed the blue-eyed boys who got to move in high company.
The best part was the polo trips to Meerut and Delhi, wherein we escaped a cadet’s tough life for a month or so. Morning rides followed by a gargantuan breakfast and a polo match in the evening. That was the schedule. Sometimes, Bubbles took us for a ride in his Mercedes sports car after the match and gave us a nice treat at Connaught Place.
Prior to getting commissioned, cadets are allotted the arm or service to serve in. Rupi and I were allotted artillery, Randy to the armoured corps and Prince to the Army Service Corps (later switched to the armoured corps). We were commissioned on June 27, 1965, and the polo quartet split up.
Polo went on the backburner over the next few years but in mid-1968, Rupi and I were posted to the Artillery Centre at Nasik Road with the aim to raise a polo team for the artillery. I, however, got selected to go for training as an Air OP Pilot.
My polo was revived in 1970 when we started playing for the artillery but that too got short-circuited due to the Indo-Pak war of 1971. After the war, Rupi, who was easily the best among us, changed over to 61 Cavalry, which is the only horse mounted Cavalry regiment in the world. He went on to become an international polo player with a handicap of 5 goals. He travelled across the world playing for India and went on to command the regiment before calling it a day.
Polo, for me, became a once-a-year event since I was heavily involved professionally. But such was the passion that when I was preparing for the Defence Services Staff College exam, with just a month to go, I pushed off to Hyderabad to play as part of Rupi’s team. Everyone thought I was crazy but I couldn’t resist the opportunity. Eventually, it had no effect on the result and I got a competitive vacancy to attend the Staff College Course in Australia. I continued playing the sport as and when I could be spared from my duties till my premature retirement in 1994.
t is time to reflect back on a life well lived. A service of 29 years in the army, during which I fought in a war for the nation, played polo for the artillery, flew as an Air OP Pilot, commanded an artillery regiment and an army aviation squadron. Thereafter, in civil aviation, I flew helicopters for 17 years, flying the high and mighty during election campaigns before finally calling it a day.
The good life started with the polo quartet. Prince and Randy are already in the happy hunting grounds, leaving Rupi and myself on mother earth. The great memories will remain till it is our time to bid goodbye. email@example.com
The writer is a Chandigarh-based defence veteran and Vir Chakra awardee
*There was another way to be a polo player without being a king or a rich man. The Indian Army, following the traditions left by the British, maintained a number of polo teams that played in various venues during winter. (Representational image/HT file)