What is life like for the men, women and horses that are part of Chennai’s mounted police battalion? Akila Kannadasan finds out.
The constable knows that heads will turn when he canters on his majestic Simon by the shoreline. His horse commands respect and N.A. Shekar, a member of the city’s mounted police battalion, is proud of it. People on the beach will heed Shekar’s warning not to venture into the water. “They will be intimidated by the animal, if not by me,” he smiles. We see them by the beach at dawn and dusk — the khaki-clad men and women on horses keep a watch on boisterous crowds. Ask any of them and they would tell you how much they love their job. The reason? It’s their horses.
A mounted police officer’s day starts early. He/she arrives at the stables in Pudupet by 4 a.m. “We brush our horse, fasten its collar and saddle it for the ride,” explains constable T. Ezhilarasi. The beach duty is from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. to 7 p.m. “People think we ride without a care in the world. But, it is not so,” says another woman constable. “We should be alert from the moment we gather the reins till we step down after duty. For, we deal with tremendous power. Even a casual flick of the horse’s feet can injure the rider badly.”
There are some horses that get agitated at the slightest disturbance. A honking vehicle, temple bells, firecrackers…each horse reacts differently to sound. There are some that listen to no one but their rider. Ever the brute, ‘terror kuthirai’ Silent Star, for instance, doesn’t let anyone ride him but R. Kesavan. “He is a tension party,” says Kesavan. Silent Star was without a rider for two years until Kesavan arrived. Kesavan developed a liking for him and so did the horse.
Kesavan joined the battalion for the love of horse-riding. “Horse-riding is expensive. Here, we get to learn it free of cost,” he says. Many horses in the battalion once lived adrenaline-fuelled lives. “Some of them were donated by philanthropists after retirement from the race track. Some have been purchased by the government,” explains head constable R. Krishnamurthi.
Krishnamurthi has been part of the battalion for 23 years. The 51-year-old has ridden several horses as a police officer, but it’s a deep-brown mare that’s close to his heart. “She was called Blue Diamond,” says Krishnamurthi. “I was 28 when I first saw her. She was extremely tough. Several senior officers had tried riding her, but had given up. But she let me do so; I don’t know why. We developed an attachment for each other.”
Sub-inspector S. Jothi will never forget Hurricane, a chestnut horse that shook off several riders even if their feet or hand so much as brushed against his belly. “He didn’t like to be touched. If you rode him, you had to be really careful not to touch him. If you did, he would knock you against a wall,” he laughs.
A rider should be fearless. For, the horse knows. In his hold of the reins, the poise of his feet…one should be spot on to earn the animal’s respect, explains Jothi. “The horse will sniff you the moment you step into the stable.” Krishnamurthi adds that a rider has to take care of his horse like his own child. “There are officers who make it a point to visit their horses when they come to the city after a transfer,” says Jothi.
There is tenderness in these tough police officers — Krishnamurthi’s eyes well up when he recalls the death of his dear Blue Diamond. “It was a Friday. I was not on duty. Someone else had taken her for a parade. They passed by a temple festival on their way back. Blue Diamond got agitated. She hit her head on the pavement and died a little later.” Krishnamurthi couldn’t take it. He starved for a week.
Such stories are common in the battalion. When Thalapathy died, Jothi spent the entire night in the hospital with him. Then there was the much-loved Garuda. After his death, he was laid to rest inside the battalion’s campus. His rider Ramalingam was devastated. He came to Garuda’s resting place every day with a garland. He did so for days.