Buchi Prakash on why the Kolanka Cup is the pride of polo, the game's royal past and the early years of the Madras Polo & Riders Club
The Kolanka Cup is the pride of polo and also Madras. Made of silver and marvellously carved, it stands six feet tall and the Guinness Book of World Records calls it the tallest sports trophy in the world. The polo-playing Raja of Kolanka made this cup and instituted the tournament in the Madras Presidency.
Madras is credited with many firsts in polo. Not all of them are flattering. It can be named for the longest on-field altercation: in the mid-1970s, two players started an argument, during a match at the Officers Training Academy grounds (then Officers Training School), which culminated in polo administrators requesting the offended parties to make peace. French player Lionel McCaire had confronted Nawab Habeeb Jung from Hyderabad: “What's happening? Why did you ride into me?”
“In polo, you can ride at a steep angle!” was Jung's reply. McCaire was not willing to accept that explanation and a strongly-worded argument between the two raged. In protest, the French player got off the saddle and lay on the ground. Entreaties from the organisers failed. It finally took a friendly smile from Jung to resolve the deadlock.
Many of the unforgettable matches from the city were played at the OTA grounds, the grand stage of Madras polo since the late 1960s. The sport came to be enshrined here after taking a meandering course that included sojourns at the Government House and the Chettinad Palace. In the days when polo was played at a ground in the Government House (Adyar), black bucks and spotted deer — which strayed on to the polo field — stopped play more often than the rains. After a few members of the Riding Club of Madras — including A.C. Muthiah, M.A. Chidambaram and my father M.V. Prakash — formed the Madras Polo & Riders Club (MPRC) in the early 1960s desiring to give polo an organisation dedicated to its promotion, games were conducted at the Chettinad Palace. In 1969, MPRC gained access to the OTA grounds to organise tournaments.
In the 1960s and 1970s, MPRC was among groups from South India that were helped by the Race Club through Gymkhana Racing (also known as Gentlemen's Racing), which encouraged amateurs to race with their ponies, making use of the facilities at the Club. The revenue from this event was divided among the clubs engaged in equestrian sports. These races resulted in greater collections than regular ones. Thanks to this novel provision, MPRC could conduct its tournaments without having to look for sponsors. And, it indirectly helped popularise polo in Madras.
BIO BUCHI PRAKASH Born in 1950, he is one of the eminent polo players from Madras to have played for the country and is still the highest handicap player from South India. He has played in 21 countries for private teams. He was the steward of the Indian Polo Association from 1989 to 1993 and again, from 1997 to 1999. Chairman of Carnatic Coast Constructions and Hotels (CCCH), his hotels and businesses have always reflected his interest in horses and polo. In the 1980s, he ran a boutique Horse & Wagon which featured designs named after his ponies. He takes time out in October and November for competitive polo in Jaipur and Delhi with his team, which plays under the banners of Horse & Wagon and Buchi Babu.
I REMEMBER Sergeant Monroe was an unlikely coach and manager of the Riding Club of Madras. The Englishman stayed on in Madras — even after India's Independence — and worked for the Madras Mounted Police. Riding a Matchless bike and sporting a handlebar moustache, he inspired respect in the horse riders and polo players of Madras.