Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 137: Polo, the "King of Games is Still the Game of Kings"

Music for this image: "Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92: II. Allegretto - performed by the London Symphony Orchestra" (Tarsem Singh's "The Fall" will never get this piece out of my mind)

View Album: PSO Aibak Polo Cup Final 2011 - Lahore, Pakistan
Sitting under a sky of clouds and mixed sunlight, a gentle, warm breeze wafting along. A sweet little Springer Spaniel with vanilla and cocoa fur sniffing around. You take your seat with an expansive view of the green field, the Lahore Polo Club score board and giant billboards from sponsors of the PSO Aibak Polo Cup Final in front of you. One board boldly reads in bright yellow and blue, "...The King of Games is Still the Game of Kings." Every now and then you'll see a massive group of black crows rise in the distance and fly about in wide circles, only to resettle somewhere again behind the swaying trees.

You look to your left and down near the end of the white fabric-covered seats you see entering the "posh" and fashionable ladies of Lahore, young and middle-aged men in blazers (some with upturned collars) and black, shiny shades (to block the many times barely there sunlight). Among them are famous and beloved polo players, both male and female. In walks, no, struts Shamile, a former polo champion of Pakistan. The women around you lean across to their girl friends and whisper with furtive glances at Shamile, and you, as a newcomer to polo and the atmosphere of this strange posh world, are informed that he is THE playboy of Lahore. He smirks and walks around with a proud air, cigarette in hand, tight white jeans (or old polo pants), and blue sweater, and naturally a puffed up beret on his head, stylishly tilted to the side; you no longer doubt that women have lavished their graces, and probably much more, upon this curiosity of a man. Yet your friend leans to you again a moment later to tell you how much he adores his wife, a woman much older than himself, whom he has been faithful to for the duration of their marriage. Alcohol, you hear, has taken a toll on his looks over the years, but when he was young you would have thought him handsome.

Looking around, you see that it is not only the "cream" of society that comes here (although you wonder what cow in brand-name hell would such cream be made from); many attendees seem to be from other walks of socio-economic Lahore life, and all sit in any seat they please. So, all are seated, and the danceable latest hits ("Papa Americano Original Remix" and Enrique Iglesias' "I Like It" amongst others) being DJ'd live by one of Lahore's hottest FM radio stations fade down.

The animated voice of the announcer resounds across the field, and in come galloping the stunningly beautiful horses, maneuvered and reigned and ridden with bits in their mouths and leather straps and belts and seats and metal horseshoes hammered into their feet. The sound of their heavy hooves thudding against the short grass, faster and faster and faster, resonating in your soul, and you feel that these are the voices of the magnificent creatures whose eyes roll in terror, mouths wide open as the bits force their heads to jerk back painfully.

But for everyone there the horses are nothing more than a thrilling excitement, and you feel guilty as you partake in this sensational, animalistic thrill of the galloping of the horses rushing toward one end of the field or another; will Gaston, the Argentinian star polo player of the game, make the shot again, 3rd in a row?! You observe and absorb the tangling-weaving of this ancient Persian game with the British colonial sensibilities and international peculiarities: the Pakistani players and Argentinian among them, the Pakistanis and the British and the Pakistani-Americans/English/Australians/Canadians sitting in the audience clapping with excitement (a mother of one of the players shouting exuberantly whenever her son has control of the polo ball); the tight polo pants with knee-high brown leather boots; that Springer Spaniel; the "British" accent of the Pakistani announcer; the young audience members in American fashioned skinny jeans; Black Eyed Peas playing during the end of each of the four "chakars."

You clap and you gasp and you wonder at the skill of the players and your heart breaks for the horses. You've seen your first polo match.

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