A trailblazing event that promotes past icons in today’s presence, the Manipur Polo Tournament 2020 is livening up at the Mapal Kangjeibung in Imphal. With the top men’s clubs vying in the concluding games by now the excitement is promising to make the winter afternoons warmer than usual in the grand stands. For one who’s new to the game, watching it is quite an experience. I’m not sure if I have seen a full-length polo match before mid-season this time. In New Delhi, where I’ve always been there are high quality equestrian displays sometimes as the city hosts two racecourses. I may have caught a glimpse or two there but can’t recollect now.
Polo is quite a competitive game if you come to think of it, though being on horseback manoeuvrability would look ostensibly lesser, lending less by way of viewership to the stands. But that’s untrue. Let’s pick up the action from the Samurou Polo Club versus CRPF Polo Club match this Monday that heated up the competition. I join in here ’cause suddenly in a span of a single game the agility of the horses and the riders was visible more than ever then on. I got about hooked considering it’s just the second event I’m watching after I stumbled into a Mapal Kangjeibung game featuring women’s clubs, with of course an international women’s league that came in-between that helped me focus on the game’s intricacies and this season’s goings.
With the sun out fully on the field on the wintry afternoon a game of polo can be a fascinating treat to the eyes. If you’re watching it closely you can’t miss out how the necks of the ponies shuffle beautifully sideways when they have to fall back on open spaces to cut short a rival chase on the ball. And with their stock still in the momentum of the game they go left or right or between the horses with a pull of the reins. Or how they charge down the ground when let loose at a moment’s notice. Then to see the mallet connect with the ball going at that kind of a speed – is sheer joy for the player as much for those watching.
It’s quite amazing and surprising how the riders and the horses get to know each other. The rival checks look easy and effortless although a lot of danger is there too if you don’t anticipate how near a rider is. But the innocuous noble steeds actually used to carry warriors into battle and know maybe by instinct to keep you seated safely. I never thought about it but the game lives up to its earlier significance as a martial game. How horses and riders were all about warring sides with no referees on the trot. Horses were in fact all over the world used for that purpose only – to war. Trained ponies I believe understand each of their riders, as much as a pony knows the rider on its back is only a arbitrating referee who is not in the game, and at which times it’s the dumb little animal you keep seeing on and off in Imphal – a common occurrence in the city.
A new realisation that dawned on me is polo is more of a viewer’s game than maybe cricket or football, in that it’s not about just raw nerves or raw muscles. Whereas the response from the audience in other sports is too quick and the moments are nerve wracking, troublesome at times for the high emotion it generates, polo comparatively registers swifter in the mind only as the game progresses and the alertness of the riders is visibly translated into the deep intensity with which the game is played while on horseback. It’s not about winning or losing but the completely overriding spectacle it presents for the viewers. Although we do support personal teams the idea of winning or the effort put in for that is only very faintly visible and there’s no roar or alacrity accompanying a win or a loss. So that a win is hardly a win and a loss hardly a loss except as a solitary and memorable joy for the player.
One only wishes wars were like that too – in the way animosity should be seen, on or off the side-lines. The warring game for preparation for war in far traditions is today seen as a no ends gained affair of sophistication in sports. It’s about loving a horse too, like you love a creature that doesn’t throw you off its back.
The men’s event will end on February 9. The 15th women’s event of the State Polo Tournament this year was won by Lingthoinganbi Polo Club, while X-Polo Club did well to take the 3rd Junior Boys (Under-16) title. In-between the ongoing tournament, Great Britain won the winner’s trophy in the Statehood Women’s International Polo Tournament that featured the USA, who went till the final game, Argentina, Egypt, India and Manipur.
With a special mention that the women’s events is more memorable. It’s not underrated at all as would seem for there were some brave Manipuri ladies on horseback, or should we say girls since most of them are in their teens, who as expected lived up to their sabre-rattling ways to which they are used to by now. Manipuri feminism bequeathed an ability for admiration of details as the sole premise of life. Something kept up alive lately in the elegance with which the women and girls play this game.
So the action’s catching up in this year’s State Polo Tournament as much as the popularity gets tuned to the public psyche. And if you are doing nothing, its 1 O’clock in the afternoon and everyone’s out there watching together till the spectacle lasts for now. For brevity is not the name of the game when you’re screaming down the ground with your favourite players and ponies – and enjoying every bit of it too.
For those whose minds would still be racing at the close of the tournament, as an afterthought there’s a year ender coming up before you unplug for the season and reminiscence on it till the next time. The Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association is organising a men’s and women’s tournament, dates for which would be out soon. The current tournament is organised by the All Manipur Polo Association.
Then on it would be time to lay off for some time during which everyone involved with the game has to think for the upkeep of the Manipuri pony – which in fact is one of the concerns behind the game being promoted to its present popularity, especially among the youngsters.