Northern India Polo Championships

I had just enjoyed an Indian classical music concert at the Habitat Centre on Lodi Road. The whole afternoon was free before the jazz concert started at the ungodly hour of 5pm. Delhi has TimeOut online and I flicked through its pages on my smart phone like a discerning roué discarding desperate cougars on Tinder. It was the hottest mid February day in five years, just tipping 30 degrees. This wasn’t the time for a gallery or a museum; I needed some vitamin D in my ageing skin. So when Polo flashed up on the screen, I was intrigued.

The Jaipur Polo Ground wasn’t far away, just by the Racecourse. The Northern India Championship Finals sounded interesting, but I couldn’t get through on the telephone number for “executive tickets”. It sounded expensive, too. Nevertheless, off I trotted to watch the ponies.

I had brought my long lens and digital SLR camera, so I thought I might capture some good pictures. However, there were signs prohibiting photography (probably because the Polo Ground abuts the Indian Air Force Base by Safdarjung Airport). I walked through security without any problems, but then had a choice – BT or HP. Both these multinational companies sponsor polo and their teams were the warm up act.

I chose BT and blagged my way into the cheap seats in the shade. No complimentary drinks, unfortunately. I was the first spectator, so I settled down to read the Sunday newspaper. Then I looked up Polo on Wikipedia. Here are some fascinating facts:

The Sultan of Delhi was impaled on the pommel of his saddle and died, after his horse fell during a polo match in 1210 AD. About the same time in the Middle East, playing cards featured polo sticks as a suit (instead of clubs?).

Polo originated in Manipur 2,000 years ago where polo was one of the three forms of hockey – field hockey, hockey on horseback and the intriguing “wrestling hockey”. The modern rules developed after soldiers brought the sport back to Britain in the early 19th Century.

In Central Asia, Buzkashi or Kokpar are variants of polo, with two teams on horseback, few rules and a dead goat being used instead of a ball.

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The friendly match finally got underway. The ponies looked magnificent. I mistakenly thought that polo ponies were small; they are actually normal-sized horses. The tail and mane are tressed and tied up neatly. They wear leggings over their fetlocks to protect against hits from the ball. They all looked very sprightly and ready-for-action. Clearly, they really enjoyed the sport.

I was expecting the riders to be decked out in fashionable Ralph Lauren gear. Instead, their clothing was functional – polished riding boots, with extra protection around their knees, tight trousers (not jodhpurs), a peaked helmet, eye protection and, obviously, a polo shirt. The polo stick also surprised me as it was supple, not rigid. Unlike in croquet, the riders hit the ball with the side of the mallet, not the end. There are four riders in each team.

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The rules are complex, especially when deciding if a foul has been committed. The pitch is enormous, 300 yards long by 160 yards wide. The aim is to get the ball between two goal posts. After a goal has been scored, the teams change ends. Each chukka lasts for seven minutes of play and there can be up to eight chukkas. The game “kicks off” with an honoured guest, usually a lady, throwing in the ball from the sideline.

Despite the ban on photography, half a dozen professionals were active taking pictures of the match. Sod it, I thought, they are unlikely to clap me in irons if I use my camera. I discretely started snapping away without leaving my seat. No one seemed to mind; everyone was watching the polo.

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Hewlett Packard trounced BT. The ground was firm and dusty, so there was no need to put on wellington boots and stomp in divots. The BT and HP riders lined up in front of the posh seats and received their prizes and party bags (a complimentary cell phone and a laptop, perhaps?). I surreptitiously “papped” a beautiful blonde lady who was posing for the professional photographers. Was she an entrant in the “Jilly Cooper Lookalike Competition”, I wondered?

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There was a short interlude, when the Indian Cavalry put on a display of superb horsemanship. Riders leaned out of the saddle at full gallop, picked up lances, skewered targets with sabres and bayonets and even plucked handkerchiefs from the ground. The master of ceremonies had to warn the intrepid professional photographers to move back into the stands as last year, a galloping horse had fallen and the rider had been flung towards the crowd, breaking his ankle.

The two teams in the final were Equisport and Jindal Panthers. One of the Panthers was an Argentinian professional, Miguel Saravia. I thought Equisport’s Shamsheer Ali was the best player (headline “Shamsheer Smashes Five”), though his brother, Basheer Ali, was named man of the match (“Basheer Bashes Two” doesn’t make such a good headline). Equisport won 8 – 6 after six chukkas.

It was very exciting and, despite being allergic to horses, I didn’t sneeze once.

Lovebirds

Spring is here. I can tell because the pigeons are getting frisky outside my bedroom window during the night. They like to perch on the air conditioner and coo. Then they scrat. It makes a terrible racket and wakes me up.

So I have started using the air con to dissuade them from hanky panky. It don’t think it will cool their ardour, but the noise might keep them away or put them off. Of course, the air con is so loud that it would probably drown out any pigeon noises anyway. I have to snuggle down under the mink blanket to keep warm, even though the thermostat is set for the cooling to start at 22C.

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These are the two culprits, with their droppings clearly visible.

Becoming Indianised

On Monday evening, the driver dropped me off at the street market after work so I could do the fruit and veg shopping for our apartment. Wary of being overcharged as a foreigner, I usually sidle up behind a well-dressed Indian lady who is haggling over the price of onions at a stall. I greet her and ask how much she’s paying, so the vendor has to offer me the same price.

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I wandered back to the apartment loaded up like a packhorse. The fresh peas looked tempting, so I shelled a few pods and ate the peas raw. Delicious. Rather than throw the empty pods away, I kept them in my hand. This attracted the attention of a cow, on the lookout for some fresh greenery. I fed the cow and continued down the street. This is what many Indians do, although some wrap up scraps and peelings in a plastic bag, which is dangerous for cows to eat. It made me feel a bit righteous, feeding Mother India.

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These are not my empty pea pods

I fed another cow and before I knew it, I was being pursued like the Pea’d Piper of (S)hamelin Bagh. I had to pick up the pace to get to our side-street, or the cows would have eaten my purchases.

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Cows outside the clinic, just off the Grand Trunk Road

(Rough) Diamond Dogs in Delhi

Wandering down the lanes (galis) of Old Delhi on Sunday morning, I took some photos of dogs. Here’s an old man, sitting in the feeble winter sunshine with his dog.

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This family were catching up on some sleep, huddled together on a ledge.

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This man was lovingly stroking his dog’s head with his left foot. The dog really seemed to enjoy it, too. I suppose any form of gentle contact would be perceived as being affectionate.

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In the fancy paper producing area of Chawri Bazar, this dog has curled up among discarded magazines, gold foil wrapping paper and off-cuts. There’s some discarded food in front of him, wrapped up in a plastic bag, but he doesn’t seem bothered.

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Walk in the Bazar

I should have known better. It was crowded, impatient people pushing and jostling. I took my phone out of my trouser pocket and put it in my knapsack, wearing it on my chest, not my back. I was able to zip away my wallet and keys safely. I checked again in five minutes and the phone had disappeared. Luckily I met Kim, one of our nurses at the clinic, on Netaji Subhash Marg and she let me use her phone to report the loss. Hopefully the phone’s SIM will be blocked and I can get a replacement next week. I was thinking of getting a new phone anyway…

I took some interesting photographs. This is a cart full of pomelos, giant grapefruits with very thick skin and pink flesh.

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And here is a man with a bicycle cart filled with papayas. At this time of year, they don’t have any black seeds inside. He has cut a window into one of the fruits to demonstrate this. They are resting on a bed of shredded newspaper. When you buy them, they are normally wrapped in newspaper, too.  You can see the rolls of newsprint behind his cycle seat.

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This man is selling colourful bed sheets. Forget pastel shades here. Above his right shoulder you can read the sign “All types of altration pent ^ shir” – which I think means they alter pants and shirts.

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These two boys are minding the shop and drinking tea. Above their heads is a sign saying “Fix Price No Tension” but many people enjoy the cut and thrust of bargaining.

I stopped for a drink of freshly squeezed orange. This man peels the oranges first – cut off the top and bottom disks of skin, then make four vertical cuts and detach the peel. The peeled fruits go into this hand-cranked mincer. The pith comes out one side, and tart juice on the other. He adds sugar and salt to each glass.

Sometimes it is just nice to stop and chat with the locals, even if it is just in broken English. We can usually understand each other. I asked this man what he was selling. He pointed to the leaves on his right and drew a finger across the front of his neck. I was flummoxed. Then he said, “Mbaaah” and I realised he was selling fodder for sheep who had been brought into the old city to be slaughtered. He offered me a cup of tea, but I’d just drunk the orange juice, so I declined.

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The man making these brass goblets and dishes didn’t want to be photographed, so I just snapped what he had been making. He was sweating over a charcoal fire, no wonder he didn’t want to be bothered.

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This bakery must have blisteringly hot, too, when the oven was in action baking these cakes and breads. There is a fan fitted overhead but it can’t do much to cool down the shop assistant. The handcart is probably used to sell their produce on the street.

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Boys always want you to take their picture. This lad was drinking lassi from a plastic bag. His friend decided to get in on the act with a photobomb.

The Meena Market outside the Jama Masjid mosque has on sale virtually anything you could ever want to buy. Or not want to buy. Like this topographical carpet in red, orange and beige. Or second hand irons. Ancient amplifiers and tuners. Wires of every type and description.

Did you know that screwdrivers, spanners and files come here to die?

There are fripperies too, such as silver bangles, earrings and any scent you could possibly smell.

There are spices, dried fruits and nuts, sandals and sweaters – yes, it was 36C today, but it is officially winter now.

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The festival of Diwali is celebrated with fireworks. This chap at Majestic Fireworks Company has a “No Smoking” sign on the wall. He claims to have a gold medal and his shop is the oldest “of all kinds of display fireworks.”

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I am not sure that Cheap Traders of the Jama Masjid Motor Market will have a website. But the Hotel Arsh does – http://www.hotelarsh.com – and it isn’t expensive at £7 a night. There is also the wonderful Indraprastha Hindu Girls’ Senior Secondary School founded with support from the theosophist, Dr Annie Besant, 112 years ago in a converted villa/haveli. It has two courtyards and lovely diffused light from stained glass panels.

It is always good to look your best on a Sunday morning. This man shaved off his ‘tache with an old fashioned safety razor and a lick of water. Pahh, soap? Who needs it?

Many places have a string of chillies and a lime hanging outside their house or shop. This is ward off Alakshmi, the Goddess of poverty and misery. She is the evil twin of Lakshmi, Goddess of prosperity and good luck. If Alakshmi eats the chillies and lime, she will lose her appetite and won’t come inside.

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Chawri Bazar Road has the most impressive electrical wiring in Old Delhi. People and animals get electrocuted occasionally. The old architecture is crumbling away unfortunately.

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Those of you with a sensitive disposition (or if you are reading this over your breakfast cornflakes), stop reading now, if you don’t want to see photographs of sheep heads, hooves, chicken feet and flies on a motorcycle seat – what was he carrying on there to make it so attractive?