Elephant polo: Trunk in cheek

first_imgDear Aroon,Sorry for not being there in person to give you a Tiger Tops piece but as you’ll see from this letter, I was overtaken by events quite beyond my control. Before you ask me to foot the bill for not producing a story let me tell you what exactly,Dear Aroon,Sorry for not being there in person to give you a Tiger Tops piece but as you’ll see from this letter, I was overtaken by events quite beyond my control. Before you ask me to foot the bill for not producing a story let me tell you what exactly happened in the Royal Chitwan National Park of Nepal.As you remember, we originally thought I was going to cover a high-stakes polo tournament featuring top international teams for the sports pages. I was a bit puzzled on arriving here to discover that the names of the teams pinned up on the board were rather unfamiliar.I’m sure you’ve never heard of “Hannibal’s Own”, “Gurkha Gladiators,” “Pan Am Jumbos”, “Tiger Tops Tuskers”, “Rajasthan Ramblers” or “Edward Horsewell’s Regulars”.When my journalistic instincts overcame my incredulity, I went sniffing around with notebook and pen to get the background stuff before the matches started (Have you ever tried sniffing around 12 elephants?); The experts were not very illuminating either. I was even more puzzled when I heard trumpeting sounds from the stables but since the hospitality here was rather elaborate and spirited, I thought nothing of it. I really should have caught the first yak back when, in the sober light of day, the mounts that were to be used for the tournament lumbered into view.Major Jack Keen, a very puccka bloke from Blighty representing Hannibal’s Own, gave me my first usable quote: “The first rule of elephant polo is that there are no rules,” he mumbled through his handlebars. However, a few investigative pink gins later, I discovered he was exaggerating.advertisementAs far as I could perceive, there were two definite rules. Players were allowed to strike the elephants with their long-handled sticks as much as they wanted to – and some got pretty adept at this inspiring me to write myself a reminder to use the phrase “pachydermic patience” in the story.They were not, however, permitted to strike opposing players though there were some pretty close shaves. In fact, Digvijay Singh, the most enthusiastic member of the Rajasthan Ramblers (the name was changed to Rajasthan Rowdies after the first “jungli” night) came perilously close to decapitating two opposing players during his 5 kmph charge towards the goal uttering bloodcurdling war cries.The other unspoken rule was that in order to play the game players were meant to strike the ball with their sticks. You would have been amazed at the number who failed to observe this rule and the cries of “foul” really referred to the mounds of droppings that played hell with well-planned moves.I must admit that often it wasn’t really the fault of the players that form and predictions went awry with monumental regularity. Horse well’s Regulars, smartly turned out in white jodhpurs, wiped out favourites Rajasthan Rowdies the first day only to fall victim to some mysterious jungle disease later that night. I thought I had my first piece of sensationalism when dark suspicions were being muttered behind the stables of the Indians having spiked their drinks. Whatever the cause, the damage was done. “I can’t bear to look,” moaned Mrs George Clowes, wife of a team member, when the next day’s play resumed. “Edward is seeing five balls and the others aren’t seeing any.”Maybe the organisers should have used a larger ball. But as Jim Edwards of Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, one of the organisers confided to me, “We tried using footballs last year but the elephants just couldn’t resist popping them underfoot like balloons.”The other problem was that the damned ball kept getting lost in a thicket of elephant legs while the mahouts, who thought the whole affair was a huge joke (no pun intended) were under the mistaken impression that the objective was to pile one elephant on top of another. The only goals that were scored came when a player managed to hit the ball a few yards which usually gave him a clear lumber(?) to the opposing goal.Elephants being readied for the tournamentThe most interesting story I got was the auction of the teams the rather inebriated night before the tournament started. The process was fairly simple. Each team was auctioned off to a buyer from among the audience, some of whom were incredibly generous with their assets. Gail Adleson, whose company, Lorimar, owns the most successful television serial in history.”Dallas”, offered to pay for a one-week holiday at an exclusive country club in Los Angeles, to the owner of the winning team. Pan Am, co-sponsors of the tournament, chipped in with a round trip first-class ticket to Los Angeles.advertisementHolidays in Japan and Saudi Arabia (I double-checked this one) were also among the offers while the Gurkhas generously offered a week’s stay at their Sangma Ridge retreat to the team that came last (Guess who lumbered home last – the Gurkhas)! And photographer Don McCullin, offered his won prize: a complimentary photograph on any subject for the winner.The home team (Tiger Tops Tuskers) was auctioned for the highest bid of pound 1,000 since it was generally felt that they knew the terrain, the elephants and could converse with the mahouts. The Indian team fetched pound 700 because, as auctioneer Ian Wright of The Sunday Times announced, “they were rumoured to have played the game before”.Teams race for the ballThe Brits, true to tradition, paid up pound 250 and bought themselves while the Pan Am lot went for a paltry pound 300. The Scottish team, also true to tradition, opened their bid by offering Rs 10 for themselves but finally went for a fairly respectable pound 250.Four days later, the Tuskers had justified their seeding by winning the tournament. England and Scotland, in a rare display of solidarity came joint third while the Pan Am Jumbos wound up a creditable second. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to witness the epic end.Two days of popping corks till the early morning hours is guaranteed to paralyse your typing fingers and cloud the memory. I asked somebody if drinking beer at 7 a.m. wasn’t overdoing it a bit. “Not if you’re playing polo,” he threw over his shoulder before rushing off to try and identify his elephant.And, even if I wasn’t actually playing (though I was sorely tempted when the prizes were being announced) one does tend to get involved in the general activity, professionally speaking, of course. But since elephant polo is a sport where most of the activity takes place off the field, I thought there really wasn’t a story in it for a serious newsmagazine.The Rajasthan RamblersI could, if you like, come up with a think piece on “The Cementing Role of Sport in International Relations” Or, if you really want a sports story, I could do it next year: the tournament’s well on its way to becoming an annual event.For the moment, all I have are the snapshots. Whatever you decide, don’t call me too early – I don’t have to cover an elephant polo match in the morning.Regards, SumanWinners Tiger Tops Tuskers scoreEditor’s notingSD. Sorry to hear there’s no story but let’s see what Sunday Times, Taller and the BBC do before I decide who pays for your vacation(?) – APlast_img

Leave a Comment