Move over Kolkata. Chennai is the new pigeon-racing capital of India. With the number of clubs for the sport having doubled in recent years, the city is beak, wings and tail ahead of the competition.
The first to appear on the country’s pigeon-racing map, Kolkata was once the destination for anyone with a passion for this hobby-sport. The Calcutta Pigeon Racing Pigeons Club is the oldest in India and the city produced a slew of legendary breeders and trainers of racing pigeons.
But today, Chennai is unmatched in the number of pigeon fanciers and its ability to promote the sport in other centres.
“Chennai has eleven clubs and around 400 pigeon-racing enthusiasts. But if you factor in other pigeon sports that involve tumblers, tipplers and show pigeons, the city has around 4,000 pigeon fanciers,” says K. Palaniapppan, president of the New Madras Racing Pigeon Association (NMRPA). “To give a picture of how clearly Chennai is ahead of the other cities that boast a history of pigeon racing, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata have two clubs each and Pune has one.” There are around 40 racing pigeon forums around Tamil Nadu and the sport is believed to thrive in Madurai, Tiruchi, Salem, Nagercoil, Coimbatore, Tuticorin, Dindigul, Ramnad, Kilakarai and Pamban partly because of the support and guidance from Chennai.
Another senior member of the pigeon-racing fraternity, R.R. Prasad of Central Madras Homer Club says: “From the days when we looked to guidance from Y.S. Chen and P.S. Lee, pigeon fanciers who made Kolkata synonymous with the sport, we have come a long way. In the 1980s, pigeons bred by these men were in a class by themselves. They were the first to do 1,000-km races. For their expertise and birds, Chen and Lee were much in demand. But in the last three decades, local patrons of the sport have made handsome contributions towards improving the breed qualities of pigeons and creating a situation of self-sufficiency.”
All the key members of the clubs in Chennai are aware of, and also take pride in, the progress made since the 1970s, when two clubs — ‘Madras Homing Pigeon Association’ and ‘North Madras Homing Pigeon Association’ — introduced the sport to the city, but soon sputtered and stopped. In the 1980s, the sport revived as a result of initiatives taken by a handful of pigeon fanciers. They, in fact, went the extra mile to promote it.
“Pigeon fancier Boldry imported two breeds of racing pigeons from the United States, Strassert and Paulsion, followed by Jimmy Diaz who brought in Sodenberg racing pigeons from the United States. Logan pigeons came from Australia, thanks to efforts taken by Pat Casey, another pigeon fancier from Chennai. A Bangalore-based enthusiast Col. Smith imported Catrysse pigeons, which became popular in Madras,” says Palaniappan.
“Continuing the good work, Noel Kannan brought five pairs of Silver Toye pigeons after a meeting with the man who cultivated the breed, Silver Toye from Belgium. R.R. Prasad and Rajasekharan are among others who have helped improve the quality of pigeons being raced in the city. Ever since a tight ban has been slapped on bird imports, local pigeon fanciers have relied solely on these birds, trying out a variety of combinations, such as breeding Catrysses with Paulsions, Cattrysses with Logans, Calcutta birds with Paulsions and so on.”
The ban on imports has helped unite the various city clubs into a cohesive unit. “We go to one another for good birds. We exchange birds with — and also buy them from — fellow pigeon fanciers in the city,” says Karate R. Easwaran, secretary of Tamilnad Homer Pigeon Racing Association.
The South Indian Racing Pigeon Society — which brings together pigeon racers from around South India for special events — is an outward expression of this unity.
Palaniappan says, “Many factors contribute to this sense of fraternity. One of them is a need to combat the outrageous misconceptions about the sport. Because of its name, people associate it with other forms of racing where betting happens. We have even tried to change the name to ‘long-distance pigeon sports’ to counter this notion. We conduct the races after obtaining no-objection certificates from the Forest Department, veterinarians and the Commissioner of Police, but still face problems while taking the pigeons to other States. For instance, we have encountered opposition often from forest officials in Andhra Pradesh and had explained what the sport is all about. It’s frustrating when you are plagued by the same issues and keep clarifying the matter again and again. For this reason, the clubs organise their races at the same time — this way, we can fight the ignorance together.”
Palaniappan hints at a mega event next year that would bring all the clubs together for a series of big races. “It marks forty years of pigeon racing in Chennai, and it is made sweeter by the fact that the city is right there at the top.”
Two clubs – Madras Homing Pigeon Association and North Madras Homing Pigeon Association – kick-start the hobby-sport, but they run into rough weather.
The sport is revived as a result of contributions by city-based pigeon-fanciers Boldry, Jimmy Diaz and Pat Cassey – among them, they imported Paulsion, Stassert, Sodenberg and Logan, top-notch racing pigeons.
The decade of consolidation. Building on the good work of the previous decade, a few pigeon-fanciers brought in eggs of excellent racing pigeons from other countries and had them incubated here. The number of clubs went up to five and there were around 150 pigeon-fanciers.
The period of expansion. The clubs work more closely. Pigeon-fanciers exchange birds more freely than before. There are 11 pigeon-racing forums in Chennai — they have had a hand in groups being formed in other cities around Tamil Nadu.