For Rajasthan, polo has always represented speed, thrill and romance. Earlier, this was a privy of men and a few women. Today, it is the women who have donned their riding gear to experience the real horse power!
Once upon a time, in the land of Rajasthan, there existed a game called polo. The game was mostly played by men. The spectators were mostly women who wore chiffon sarees and pearls and cheered the men.
I was always under the impression that polo is a sport of the royalty. When I saw Karishma Kapoor’s Zubeida, I started thinking of polo as not just a game but also a setting for many budding romances between the inner royal circles. Despite the fact that there were polo players like Maharani Gayatri Devi, polo for me had always been a man’s sport. However, I did not realize that I was in for a huge revelation when I met Nikita Pandit, a seasoned polo player.
Originally from Mumbai, Nikita, 25, is a practicing lawyer who stays in London, UK and visits India every year. She is a new entrant into the polo circuit of Jaipur and has recently purchased a horse of her own. When I asked her what attracted her to Polo, she said, ‘I love horses. I have been begging my parents to buy me a horse ever since I was four years old.’ Her mother Dr. Sharmila Edekar says that Nikita was a natural with horses ever since she was a little girl. ‘Nikita and her older brother Nikhil went for their first offsite riding camp in Mumbai when they were 5 years old. They loved it so much that it became a yearly affair till we moved to London.’ So, what does she feel about her daughter going to Jaipur to play polo? ‘We believe that girls can do everything that boys can. We have brought up Nikita as a confident girl who is quite open with us and discusses everything.’ Isn’t she scared that Nikita might sustain injuries while playing? Dr. Sharmila says, ‘Injuries are common in all sports, not just in polo. All you need to do as parents is to teach your children to be safe and think on their feet. They should be street smart and should know how to deal with people. When I was a young girl, my mother sent me on a trip to Europe with a girl friend of mine. Her logic was simple. She said I may or may not get married in the future but at least I should see the world on my own.’
Nikita says, ‘Though I am a lawyer and my brother is doctor, we have been into sports all our lives. I am also a member of the lawyer’s polo association in London but polo in Jaipur is a class apart. There is a lot going on in this city and I love it when I am here.
Her brother Nikhil, 26 feels that it is only in India that women have taken so long to take up polo as a sport. ‘For me, girls playing Polo is not really a big deal. I had first started playing this sport when I was in the University of London. There I was the only boy in my team for over two and half years. In UK, girls learn horse riding and polo from a very young age. It is only here that women playing polo is such a big phenomenon. I have always played in mixed teams. In Mumbai too, there aren’t many girls who play polo. I hope these changes soon and we get a girls polo team too .’
I thought Nikita was the odd one out. After all, it is far easier for a girl from London or Mumbai to pick up polo than for someone who resides in Jaipur. However, Sanjula Mann proved me wrong again. Sanjula is just 18 years old but she knows she wants to play polo for the rest of her life. ‘I have been into polo since the last two years. I saw a polo game once and I realized I wanted to play polo for the rest of my life.’
So what does her mother Ritu Mann have to say about it? ‘I believe children should be allowed to do whatever they want in their lives. I am an educationist and I have home schooled Sanjula. I have taught her to be independent and take her own decisions.’ So, doesn’t she feel this is a dangerous sport? ‘Dangers are every where. People get hurt even when sitting at home and doing nothing. Just because there are risks it doesn’t mean that our girls should not do what they like? The only thing I tell her is to research well into whatever she wants to do. She should find out everything about the sport and only then get into it.’
Shivangi Jaisingh, 22, is another avid polo enthusiast who is studying to be a doctor and loves playing polo. Does she face any discrimination when she plays the game? ‘Not really,’ she says. ‘People have been really nice and encouraging. Sometimes, I have seen people being shocked at the idea of girls playing polo but otherwise they have been really accepting.’
These conversations reminded me of the new version of Cadbury’s ad that I had seen some days back. In this version a woman is playing a cricket match and her boyfriend is cheering her from the stands. She strikes a six and the man runs into the field and starts dancing. The earlier version of this ad where a woman cheers for her partner and starts dancing when he scores a six has been around for decades. This new ad is all about the very evident change that has been breezing in our lives and thinking for some time now and which is being echoed by these girls and their parents.
But what has really caused this change now? How is it that what was solely considered a man’s territory is now beckoning women too? Vikram Aditya Singh Barkana, who is an avid polo player, a horse trainer and the co-founder of Polo Factory feels that social media has been a great harbinger of change. He says, ‘In the recent times, the world has become a close knit unit as a result of the social media. When people here see women and girls playing polo in different parts of the world, their thinking changes. Now, the exposure to the developments and progress around the world has changed the mindset of the parents and the society in general. Since the things are happening at a big level, so it has helped people gain confidence that they too can follow their heart and mind.’
For Sneha Harjare, 32, who is originally from Nagpur, polo has been all about a new beginning. She says, ‘I studied to be a pilot. I started working at the airport, then I switched jobs. I got married and then got separated. I now run a preschool in Mumbai. Polo has heralded a new era into my life. It is my escape from the world. I love riding horses. For me, that is the real horse power! So, how did her parents take it? ‘ My mother was excited about my decision but my dad was surprised but they supported me whole heartedly. They too are happy that I have found a new passion which is so rewarding.’
This article by Shailaza Singh was recently published in Rashtradoot Newspaper’s Arbit Section