Calcutta Polo Club, the oldest in the world, is gearing up to celebrate its 155th anniversary next year. However, things were not always this exciting, and in 1998 the club had almost become defunct. The club was given a new lease of life when, in 2005, Keshav Bangur took over the reins as president. In a Q&A session with MARWAR, Bangur speaks about his hometown in Rajasthan and his home turf in Kolkata.
What does being a Marwari in Kolkata mean to you?
We feel at home in Kolkata. Like a true-blue Marwari in this city, I am committed to Kolkata and to a large extent have adapted to its culture.
When did your family move to Kolkata?
My family moved to Kolkata around the late 1800s.
Do you think life for you would have been different if they had never migrated from Rajasthan?
Who can predict that? I believe one should take life as it comes and try to make the most of the opportunities available. Why ponder over what could have been if circumstances had been different? I am content with what I have and thank the Almighty for it.
Where is your home in Rajasthan?
When my ancestors migrated from Didwana it was a part of Jodhpur state
Tell us a little about your family.
I am the grandson of the Late Shri Narsingh Das ji Bangur. Our forefathers were philanthropic. All their business and industrial activities were guided by the motto “earn, with which in turn you can serve others”. We have been a family of simple and humble people.
How often do you visit your hometown?
I visit my hometown once in two years.
How does it feel to be associated with the oldest polo club of the world?
The Calcutta Polo Club is a world heritage club established during
1861-62 by a group of British army men.
The rule book of modern polo was set
up by this club. It hosts ‘Ezra Cup’, the first-ever instituted polo trophy of the world. I have grown up watching polo being played in the middle of the racecourse at the Pat Williamson Polo Grounds, Kolkata. I took up the role of the club’s president without batting an eyelid when the opportunity came knocking on my door around 2005.
I have not looked back since and have tried my best to nurture and add value
to this priceless brand.
The Calcutta Polo Club (CPC) was set up in the early 1860s. Tell us how the CPC came to be?
The Calcutta Polo Club is the oldest polo club in the world. It all started when in 1858 two British soldiers Captain Robert Stewart and Major Gen Joe Sherer witnessed a game ‘Sagol Kangjei’ being played by locals of Manipur. Both officers were so captivated by the experience that they quickly introduced the game to their peers. Later, during 1861-62, they established the Calcutta Polo Club.
You are given the credit of bringing back glory to the club. What did you do differently to achieve this?
The word ‘polo’ has fascinated me since my childhood. I have only tried to get more and more people equally excited about the sport.
How do you intend to keep the heritage of CPC alive and encourage youngsters to take up polo?
The club conducts a lot of activities at a subsidised rate for school and college students. We also organise talk shows in schools, where we encourage students to take up this sport. I believe one needs to start early. The response that we have been getting is huge. Not all these students will become polo players, but even if one does, we would know we made a difference.
How will the club celebrate its 155th anniversary next year?
We are working on the nitty-gritty of the upcoming celebration. We cannot share what our definite plans are, but yes it will be a grand celebration.
Tell us a little about the club in these present times. How many active players does the club have, and what are the facilities provided to them?
We have well groomed polo ponies, and a nice stabling facility in a very convenient location, with an arena polo ground and a stable hut [courtesy the Government of West Bengal]. The Calcutta Polo Club lounge, adjacent to the Maidan at Bangur BFL Estate on Chowringhee Road, is the best location in Kolkata. The iconic Pat Williamson Polo Grounds has been created, maintained and used for polo by the CPC for over a century and a half. It is the Mecca of Polo for the polo community across the world.
The Maidan is owned and controlled by the Indian Army and we need permission to carry out any development work at the club. This often slows down the process of development of polo in Kolkata. We are trying our best to resolve issues for good. We hope the Army chief intervenes and gives protection to this heritage brand, which has been acknowledged the world over as the oldest polo club.
What are the tournaments that the club organises each year?
The main trophies include the Ezra Cup, Carmichael Cup, Stewart Cup, Darbhanga Cup and the Bangur Polo Masters Cup.
How would you rate the present day polo players from India?
In India, most players are average, but they enjoy playing the game. However, a handful of them have turned professionals and now compete with the best in the sport globally.
How much has the sport developed in recent years?
It has developed over the years, but we still need more polo centres and players in and from the eastern region of India. This will ensure that horses and players are able to travel to different destinations easily and play more frequently like they do in Delhi and Rajasthan. There, players and horses reach different venues within three to six hours, enjoy the game and return to their respective stations. It is difficult to participate in matches held far away when players have to travel for five days along with their horses, and then need three days to rest before a game. Therefore, big polo matches are held only once a year in this part of India.
According to you which polo club in the world is doing really well?
Argentina leads the list. This sport is very popular in the US and the UK as well. Even China has emerged as a strong contender for international polo events with amazing facilities at the Nine Dragons Hill Polo Club.
Could the CPC implement ideas from these successful clubs?
The Calcutta Polo Club never really needed to. In fact, the world polo runs on the rule book created by the CPC, which means others are actually implementing our ideas.
How do you plan to promote polo in India and attract young players?
As I said earlier, the Calcutta Polo
Club is promoting the sport in various schools, since we believe these young stars are going to be the future ambassadors of the sport.
Do you play polo? If yes, how often?
I have played polo from my childhood but now I have opted out of competitive games. However, the passion for horses and polo is still very high.