When elephants play

When Elephants Play (c) Young World, The Hindu, 2013

Dear Aristotle,

I am inordinately proud of my son. A young mind, but has great thought of peaceful coexistence — a lesson for all of us to learn!

My letter is all about what I do. I know what you are thinking. Here is an elephant that is going to tell us how hard he works for man, moving goods and people. But I have a surprise for you. I do not work — I play! Yes, that’s what I do for my keep — play polo!

No ordinary sport

Not many have heard of this sport. However, it is quite similar to horse polo which is a popular game among the maharajas and the elite. You substitute a thorough bred horse with an elephant, reduce the playing field size by a third and slow down the pace of the game — that is elephant polo for you.

In November-December every year, Nepal hosts the World championship for this sport at its national parks. Teams from India, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, the United States, Mongolia and even Iceland take part. Each team has four “units”. Each unit comprises an elephant, its mahout and a player. In a match, there are two times as many on the field. Well, that’s obvious. Just imagine how many hilarious things could happen there!

In a 20-minute match of two 10-minute chukkas (rounds), players have to score the maximum number of goals. The player strikes a small, white 100g rattan or willow-root ball with a six or seven-foot cane. In the heat of the match, players have to tell the mahout where to go, which of course the mahout would communicate to us. How difficult would that be!

We are trained for the game. Nevertheless, we too get excited! We do our own thing in the middle of a competition. We may decide to leave the field saying enough is enough or we may stop to rest for a while or simply stop right in front of the goal post! And another embarrassing thing — we also keep the cleaners busy!

All this apart, everybody takes this sport quite seriously. They play to win. Most amazing thing is that the world champions are from countries that have no elephants — Scotland, Hong Kong, Switzerland (2010 and 11) and Mongolia (2012)!

Asiatic Elephant

Reply from Aristotle

Who would play polo on elephants when they can use a magnificent Arabian steed? What kind of a sport is this?

You say in elephant polo, the pachyderms do as they please. Even in horse polo, there were no rules to play for many centuries. Players would even dismount, pick up the ball and throw it to score a goal. On the gory side, some players would stab their opponents in the back in the midst of a chaotic match! In AD 910, a relative of Chinese Emperor A-Pao-Chi was hurt in a polo match. Subsequently, he died and the grieving Emperor ordered the execution of all team-members!

Published as part of a series titled ‘Aristotle’s Mailbag’ in Young World, The Hindu, dt. February 19, 2013

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