Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Polo – the oldest game on oldest ground

Christmas weekend and whole Kolkata is in a joyous mood. After all, Calcutta was the city built by the British on the lines of London and has a long tradition of celebrating Xmas not only by the Christians but also by the majority community.
The chilly weather is setting up the mood for outings as this time of the year is the best time for outdoor activities. I think one of the best things to enjoy in this weather and this season in Kolkata is polo. More so when the Calcutta Polo Club is celebrating its 150th Birth Anniversary.
Polo is the only outdoor sport which I fully understand and also the only sport for which I physically turn up to watch on the ground. Every year during the winters I travel to Jaipur and Delhi to watch polo matches - a regular annual affair.
But the whole of last week the polo matches held at the Pat Williamson Ground was very interesting and scintillating. Whether the inaugural match or yesterday's match between the host team Calcutta and the Italian team, a decisive result emerged only during the last few seconds of the chakkars when the Calcutta team supporters finally heaved a sigh of relief and joy.
While the Imphal Polo Ground in Manipur is the world's oldest pologround, Calcutta Polo Club is the world's oldest polo club that was set up in 1862 by two British soldiers Captain Robert Stewart and Major General Joe Shearer. It is also the oldest club where the game is still being played. Polo was popularized in Kolkata by members of the Rajasthan Royal families who patronized the game and later found support from the Britishers who took to it in a big way.
Seeing the polo ponies scampering with the majestic Victoria Memorial in the background is a sight straight out of a classic Russian painting with horses and riders. Even those who don't understand the game of polo and the horse lovers who come to the ground find their spirits are lifted. And of course, there's commentator Sharad Saxena who will ensure that even the novices gets to understand the basics of the game in progress.
Polo is a team sport played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team's goal using a long-handled mallet. Polo which was described as “The Sport of Kings” is a winter game in India and played by the commoners these days.
The origins of polo dates back to the 5th Century BC Persia or modern day Iran. The name polo is said to have been derived from the Tibetan word pulu. Though polo is an active sport in nearly 80 countries, there are only about 16 countries (India included) where the game is played professionally. Though polo was formerly an Olympic game, sadly, it is no more so now.
Polo also happens to be one of the riskiest games in the sports arena and isn't for the faint-hearted. Qutub-ud-din Aibak of Qutub Minar fame died playing polo. No wonder, the game is so popular among the army personnel. I had witnessed the Prince of Jodhpur Shivraj Singh incident game when he suffered a major head injury. I must mention that globally many women have taken to polo.
With Keshav Bangur
At the polo ground in Kolkata, I met His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur and Maharaja Narendra Singh of the Jaipur Royal family during the matches. 
The polo tourney season is extremely well managed and I must congratulate Mr Keshav Bangur and Mr Subhen Mullick and team for their Christmas gift to the City of Joy.
ess bee

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