These are probably prize calves, from racing stock. Probably from the tough bulls racing up a storm barely half a kilometer away, at the Grewal Indoor stadium in Qila Raipur. Racing outdoors, though. Two bullocks were yoked together with a slim plank of wood trailing behind, attached to two motorcycle wheels. It wasn't unlike the two-wheel chariots I remember from Hollywood periodicals.
The jockey has a tougher time. At least, it looks tough. Can't be easy balancing with your feet on a narrow ledge between two wheels and your torso thrown forward on the slanting plank of the yoke. Imagine that you're half-lying, face down, hands busy with reins or a chaabuk.
One pair of bulls took a tumbling somersault in one of the races. They were a determined pair, though; within seconds, they were back on their feet and raring to race again. Except that the jockey had fallen off and the bulls didn't wait long enough for him to catch up. Besides, they were disoriented and didn't know which direction to run in; they ended up running in a diagonal across the track, with the jockey in hot pursuit.
I never saw the indoors of this indoor stadium which hosts the annual 'rural olympics' in Punjab. I wasn't there for the sports anyway, but because of the elections. Qila Raipur is a constituency and this is a good time to be at the sporting event because there are many people from various districts. I was there to speak to them, to talk politics. To hold up a straw, so to speak, to see which way the wind was blowing.
The first old turbaned gentleman I tried talking to spoke a dialect of Punjabi that I was, well, more unfamiliar with; I could barely make out his name and that he was from Toor. The second one told me he was an athlete; in the fifties, he had won second place in the district 100 metre run. An ex-army man and two-time sarpanch now (the first time, his wife won as sarpanch, which he said, was the same thing as him winning), he's making a football stadium in his village. To prevent the youth from being corrupted by narcotics.
The third one didn't say much. He was 92 years old (born 1915, as mentioned on his i-card from the Punjab Association of Veteran Athletes) and intended to participate in the next day's race for veterans. The old regulars were a little sulky about the changes in the sporting event. There was a time where the crowds were three times thicker. When there were no chairs and everybody squatted in the dust. When there was no 'security', no policemen keeping the crowds in line. When there was no loudspeaker and no running commentary and no sponsors. Most of the spectators couldn't see the 'entertainment' (songs, dances, acrobats, gymnasts) because at least twenty photographers and camera crews blocked the view. Also, because of the determined young men holding placards saying Parle-G insisted on positioning themselves right behind the performers, so that the sponsor's name was in each and every frame of the cameras.
I had just begun to talk to a couple of elderly farmers sitting on a parked scooter when a small crowd gathered around. This is not unusual; I'm used to crowds gathering around anybody with a notebook or a camera in most places. But this time, it felt unusally unpleasant. Our conversation was interrupted by a stocky, high-spirited sardar who'd been in one of the races. He'd won the first round and was aggressively conversational. I asked him if he was having fun. He said he was and so was everyone else and then he laughed. For some reason, the whole crowd burst out laughing too.
I turned to look all around me. For the first time, I noticed that it was all men. Not a single woman or child. And they were all laughing. A sliver of anger shot through my head (causing an immediate headache that lasted the whole day).
The anger had been simmering for the last few minutes, actually; ever since an anonymous hand touched my backside; anonymously buried itself into the crowd. For the last few minutes, I had been trying to tell myself that it may have been an accident. But the anger was waiting to take over from denial.
The bullock-racing sardar went on with the fun theme. How some people found fun in bulls, some in horses, some in kabaddi and some in watching... everybody had their own 'shaukh'. This caused another burst of laughter from the crowd.
I turned to ask the people on my left – what was so funny?
Another round of mirth, but less sure of itself. Some of the younger boys broke away from the fringes of the crowd. To my right, a young man spoke up. Began to answer the questions I was angling to ask; he seemed to know why I was here, and what to say.
Instinctively, he sensed my anger. As I stepped away, he apologized indirectly for the crowd. "There are no positive-thinking people here, madam. All negative-thinking. I think you should go inside and watch the races."
I told him I was not keen on the races. I needed to talk to people.
He told me that there was a separate section for the ladies.
And there's always one needed. Isn't there?