Siraj Attari continues the enduring love affair of Hyderabad with horses and polo. Serish Nanisetti listens in
There are people who fancy horses, there are people who ride horses and there are people who ride as well as talk to their horses. Siraj Attari belongs to the latter category. Siraj is at heart a polo man. He traces his love affair with horses to the time when he was five. “Our neighbour at Erramanzil used to be IG Police, Shiv Kumar Lal and he had two horses Tara and Amber. Once I was made to sit one of them and I was hooked,” says Siraj Attari sitting in the ante-room of his house on Road no 3, Banjara Hills. Now, what used to be Shiv Kumar Lal's residence houses the RTA office and the city is no longer the same. “50 years ago when we built this house this was wilderness. The Chiran Palace had no walls, only when a panther mauled the Nizam's horse they built a wall around it,” Siraj tells with a tinge of nostalgia about a time when rabbits and foxes roamed free in the area.
The talk about the past veers back to horses and polo. “At one point of time Hyderabad had 17 polo grounds now only one remains that belongs to the Army. But the rich tradition of horses and polo is there as can be seen from the fact that the National Police Academy has 40 horses, AP Police has 38, NCC has 40 and the Hyderabad Polo and Riding Club has 50 horses. What we lack is space. If we manage to get the allocated 25 acres of land in Moinabad, then Hyderabad can bask in the glory of polo,” says Siraj.As winter sunlight slants into the room, Siraj's sharp features and blue grey eyes show another side to the man. Did he act in movies? “Hahaha no. I had offers but I did modelling. I launched the Charms brand. Once Ashvin Gatha was shooting the ad with me and Kitu Gidwani and it started raining. Ashvin took us to Vijay Anand's home and Vijay wanted to know whether I would be interested in acting in movies. I said no. Vijay took my phone number and address. Ashvin told me he was shocked by my reaction. And one fine day, Vijay turned up at my house and renewed the offer but I was not interested,” says Siraj who went on to model for VIP luggage, Novo Cola and a host of other brands. “But I liked doing the Old Spice ad with the horse,” he says. Siraj also has a taste for vintage stuff. In his garage are parked a Fiat 1100 with whitewall wheels that he uses to commute to his office just across the street and a Jawa that he takes for a spin on Sundays. Parked elsewhere are Willys jeeps, all the vehicles simonized to shine as if they are new. As his son Saif steps out (he also plays polo) of the house Siraj talks about polo at a personal level. “Polo is a game for youngsters and not many youngsters are taking it up, the result is we keep seeing the same old players. Which is sad. After an age, say 35 or 40, polo players have no future. There are exceptions like General Palit who played till he was 87. Polo is not yet an industry like cricket. When a cricketer passes a certain age he can become a coach, commentator or an administrator while no such avenues exist for polo players. I want to change this by modelling the Moinabad land into what I saw at the Inanda Club in Johannesburg,” says Siraj.In his role as special steward for the Indian Polo Association, Siraj Attari plays a more administrative role to put the game on a firmer footing. Though the Indian Army gets the chunk of responsibility for the polo season at the Bison Polo Ground, Siraj remains the face of Hyderabad polo where he uses his networking skills and charm to good effect. Perhaps it has got to do with his professional life where he worked with a string of blue chip companies beginning with Blue Star to his current role as a senior director for corporate affairs at Dr. Reddy's. What is it about polo that has Siraj in a thrall? “Polo is about discipline. Early morning riding is a feeling I cannot describe. Riding a horse and playing polo exercises every muscle in the body from the toe to the brain. People may think that you sit on the horse and it does everything, it is the other way round,” says Siraj. Listening to him one gets the feeling that riding is something akin to skydiving or swimming. A liberating, life changing experience that is scary (Saif who was put on a horse at the age of 2 remembers the fright) yet something that you fall in love with. One of Siraj's pet projects is likely to be a reality soon when floodlit arena polo will be played at the Falaknuma Palace. “Arena polo is something like 20-20 cricket and is much faster. It is a spectacle and I hope it takes off in a big way,” he says. If Hyderabad has such a long equestrian tradition, why is India a no-hoper in Olympics and other equestrian events? “It boils down to horse power and lot of exposure for youngsters. This is not happening. Just like other sports, politics is plaguing polo and unless politics is eradicated from sports we will remain where we are,” says Siraj with a finality.