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Kishore Singh: The great descent


Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

I'm told I stopped being dressed in frocks the day I turned three (don't ask "" apparently this was a sixties thing to ward off the evil eye), but what I do remember of that occasion in Saharanpur, at my grandfather's sprawling cantonment house, was a day-long cricket match during which beer was served (often, but not to us kids, I think), there was a leisurely lunch, followed at some point in the evening by tea. (And since this is turning into a confessional column, I might as well declare that my grandfather's birthday gift to me was the stuffed head of an antelope that he'd shot, so clearly we lived in degenerate times.)
The reason I'm relaying these (inconsequential to most of you) turning points in my life is to moan the passing away of an era of elegance when cricket moved out and away from the classes and on to the masses. There, oh dear, I've said it and will likely burn in hell forever, but club cricket (or tennis, for that matter) was a social sport, hugely different from, say, the crass cards parties one is invited to these days where if you're not in a backless blouse or don't have stacks of thousand-rupee bundles (I don't qualify on either score), you don't count. Of course, no one hosts or invites you for cricket parties any more.
And much the same is likely to happen to polo. After decades of languishing in army parade grounds, or the boondocks, which is the same thing, polo has seen a revival of interest. Corporate money is pouring in, impeccably-dressed models and ladies from high society make an appearance to be photographed, and polo players probably make more money than cricketers.
But now that there is an attempt to take polo to the masses, the game is being taken away from the thoroughbreds and going "" oh dear, I'm doing it again "" to the dogs. Let me try and explain. Polo is about snobbery. It is about sipping (if you're so lucky) wine while you watch some chukkers. It is about high tea and high dressing and (okay, kill me) high breeding.
But in the interim since I was at my last polo match (not so long ago) and the one that was played last week at the Jaipur Polo Grounds in Delhi, the transition seems to have been complete. For one, the numbers that came to watch the match were so large, nobody in their senses was going to serve wine "" masala chai was the comedown substitute. Those sitting in the stands seemed innocent of any rules of dressing for a day out at the polo grounds, and could have graced a wedding without feeling the need to change. Not one of them, I swear, knew how polo is played, even though the commentator gamely provided the rules about chukkers and penalties every time there was a gap in the game.
At the high tea for four hundred, the numbers that gate-crashed were humungous, and the plates were plied with so much food you'd suspect it was dinner and not tea they'd come for. Long queues formed, the few polo regulars waited (pointlessly) in the wings for the numbers to decline, since the bar became their next magnet, till, finally (and inevitably) the giloutis and dimsums ran out. And with that the crowds thinned dramatically.
It's inevitable that as polo democratises, the whole notion of not just wine but high-tea will disappear as well "" who wants to feed a mob of badly behaved thousands? And with that, like cricket after the management companies took over, polo will have crossed over to the masses. If it is at all to be saved, it must not be allowed to go to the, er, common people.

First Published: Sat, December 22 2007. 00:00 IST