For all my new friends who have recently started following this blog.....please start at the very is a good place to start to get the full impact of this fascinating tale.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Winding Down

Start and end of the last hunt

With a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach I could sense an air of good times coming to an end. Trunks were being pulled out of garages and army batmen were arriving to help their madams pack. We Air Force wives had to manage on our own and I decided to only start winding up once we were done with all the equestrian events.
The final hunt was run which begun with a toast of wine at five o'clock in the morning on the Home Downs and ended with a lavish breakfast at Hotel Fernhill Palace.
 I bagged the first prize in dressage on my beloved horse Charisma and then began practising for the show jumping which was to be held at the Wellington Gymkhana Club. A day prior to the event we were taken around the course for a familiarisation tour and I completed it perfectly on Maharajah, who was not a known animal since he was specifically ear marked for his skills as a show jumper and not given to us amateurs until we were deemed capable of handling him. I was extremely nervous since this particular area of the sport had never been a strong one and I was participating only because my husband had bullied me into it. When it was finally my turn there was complete chaos - I lost my stirrup after the second hurdle and while trying to slip my foot back in, got completely bamboozled and took a reverse jump so was disqualified! I have rarely ever in my life felt so awful about failure and the thought of that terrible day still sends shivers of dismay down my spine.The  only positive thing was Sandip winning the men's title so that made up  for the abject misery that I was feeling.

Sandip in action

The last big contest was the Point to Point race being held at Windy Saddle on the Ooty Downs which we were all looking forward to. Three days before the event I got a message from the field saying Sandip had been in an accident and broken his collar bone! It was a cold and dewy morning and in a routine ride his horse Chetak had slipped and unfortunately fallen on him. I rushed to the hospital and found a dejected looking husband with his arm in a sling. It was a bad end to a fabulous riding year since he was supposed to get back to fighter flying on completing the staff course and this mishap would delay his fitness rating.
People tried to dissuade me from doing the Point to Point since it was a crazy free for all dash around a tricky route but I was determined to take part. I managed to complete the course though there were many disorderly spills and some of the horses were seen finishing the run without their riders. This was the last adventure in the riding calender and with a feeling of doom I returned home, looking around at all the packing I would now have to manage single handed since my husband would be incapacitated for the next few months.

Monday, 31 March 2014


Easy,Amber and Moody
In spite of growing up with dogs I always thought it best to wait to keep one till Munch was a little older and could learn to respect and love the animal.
After interacting with Aarti's two gorgeous black spaniels Moody and Easy, I decided  the time was right to keep a pet, so when she was making a trip to Chennai during one of the college breaks I requested her to pick up a  pup for us. She happily obliged and we were thrilled when she returned with a tiny black and white bundle in a basket. The little one was very listless, which I put down to the journey and a change of house, but a couple of days later, much to my dismay, he was dead! Munch was traumatised by the pups sudden disappearance and was told that his mama was missing him so he had to be sent back home.
On her next trip to Chennai Aarti complained to the vet that he had given us a sick puppy so he agreed to a replacement in the form of Amber, a four month old golden spaniel. This time round we were blessed with a happy and healthy baby whom Munch took to straight away and I was delighted to have a dog in the house again after so many years.
 My petite daughter could be seen galloping along after Amber in an attempt to  walk her but it was usually the other way around with Munch getting her daily exercise. I had to take over this duty full time after my little girl once tripped and was unceremoniously dragged down the road grimly hanging on to the leash of our over exuberant mutt.

Munch and Amber
I have never had a dog who had such an affinity for water. Whether it was a tiny puddle, a swimming pool or a stream, Amber could splash or swim for hours until she would have to be forcibly evicted from the scene. Watering the garden was always quite a task since she invariably pranced around snapping and playing with the jet from the hose. She would bark hysterically demanding to be doused by the spray and then would charge around and around in utter excitement!
She never gave us any trouble except for a year later doing naughty things with scruffy Tommy (pronounced Toe-mee) from the servants quarters. At that point Munch wanted to know why the dog was bleeding and I casually explained that all girls had to go through a 'period' when they were older. She then wanted to know if she would make a mess all over the house like Amber did so I showed her what a sanitary napkin was. When delivery time came it was Munch who was the most fascinated by the whole birthing process and was never in any doubt as to where babies emerged from. Thankfully she did not question  how they got where they did and that talk was had a few years later.

Learning about the birds and the bees the natural way - Munch, Aarti, Amber and Me
We had Amber for just over three years when she suddenly fell ill and was diagnosed with liver failure to which she succumbed in a few short weeks. I was quite devastated and swore never to keep another dog which over time I have discovered are the proverbial 'famous last words'.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Mishaps and Mayhem

Kilkol, Isabel, Sandip, Me, Cdr Patham, Minali, Aarti, Anna

Any equestrian sport is dangerous and over the next few months I made numerous trips to the MH (Military Hospital) to visit friends who had been unlucky enough to injure themselves.
There were many broken bones when fellow riders took  nasty falls and in one particular hunt which turned out to be crazily out of control for most of us, both Minali and Kilkol got into trouble while doing a mad downhill gallop. Kilkol cracked a couple of ribs and Minali hit her head and spent a worrisome few days in the hospital while the doctors checked for any serious damage to the brain.
On the other hand I must admit we cackled with glee when some of the less popular ladies dropped out after a mishap, which was an extremely mean reaction, but that was just the way it was.
Out of all the women in our group, all had been thrown from the horse at some point or the other. I was the only one left who had not had this particular misfortune and I knew every one was waiting for this great event to come about. I had got to the stage when I just wanted to get it over with and it eventually happened when we started to practise for show jumping. I was given a reliable horse called Mist, who took every obstacle willingly and without hesitation, so was good to practise on to get comfortable. I got a little too relaxed and when Mist decided to put on the brakes just before a hurdle I flew over his neck and landed in a messy heap on the other side of the poles. I scrambled up before any one realised what had happened and coolly carried on with the rest of the ride. Luckily only my ego took a beating though I did have a nasty bruise on one half of my body for weeks after.

Blurry pride goes before a fall

The worst trip to the MH I made had nothing to do with riding. I was summoned one morning by the school 'ayah' saying Munch had hurt herself. I rushed down to see what had happened and found my little girl covered in blood, crying her eyes out. Apparently the children had been playing during recess and she had some how caught her finger in the pivot point of the seesaw. I rushed her to the hospital and when the doctors examined her they said the finger had been so badly mangled that it might have to be amputated! It was at this point that I contacted Sandip who was in college and he really freaked out when he realised what had happened. Luckily for us the surgeon was really good and decided not to operate immediately but to wait a week and see if the tiny blood vessels would regenerate. Munch still has a crooked middle finger but at least it is still there!
The last and final trip to the familiar surroundings of the MH happened right at the end of the course while Sandip was riding his beloved horse Chetak who slipped in the early morning dew and fell on him! He broke his collar bone and was incapacitated for the couple of weeks that remained of the staff course so missed the exciting closing events of the riding calendar!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Ten Years Later

I looked and looked but never found
On the spring sweet grass of the Ooty Downs
A sign of the place where the horses ran -
Looked and sighed but could not discover
The narrowest path in the close green clover
Nor one rusty horseshoe to prove where they ran.
On open stretches in rides enchanted
The beat of our hearts too fast to be counted
We rocked to the canter and rose to the trot
While the sun beat down so golden and hot
And the grass was pounded and trampled away
But that was another, a happier day.
Now ten years later I stand and gaze
At the empty Downs in the summer haze
I see a ghost rider, he shouts "Ride On!"
Tears blur my eyes - when I blink he is gone.
Silly in the sunlight to cry like this
Silly to sigh now for all that I miss.
Lost horses, old friends, a long vanished season
I tell myself I must listen to reason
For that which is past can not ever come back
My life has been good, there is nothing I lack
Yet I long for those days that will never return
For all that I had then for ever I'll yearn.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Ooty Hunt

Ladies of OHC 1992-93
After a month of routine riding we were asked to volunteer for the Hunt which happened once a month in Ooty. None of us had any idea what this event was all about and I entered my name with some trepidation.
On doing a little bit of homework I found out that it would be the 147th year of the OHC (Ootacamund Hunt Club) with the kennels and hounds being looked after by Admiral and Mrs EC Kuruvila. I have always been disapproving of traditional fox hunting but was reassured by Col Rathore, the Veterinary Officer, that to actually even see a jackal ( which was what the hounds sniffed out) was  a rare occurrence and there was never any blood shed allowed.
Strict instructions in the etiquette and uniform demanded in the field were issued and dire warnings were given not to take things lightly as this was serious business steeped in traditions of the past.
We left Wellington at the crack of dawn and were on the Home Downs in Ooty by five o'clock. The horses were already there and in the distance we could see the the committee members in their distinctive bright red jackets, mounted and ready to go, surrounded by a large pack of excited tail wagging hounds.

Minali, Beenu, Sandip and Kilkol

We saddled up and at a signal from a bugle took off after the red coats ( as we called them). I gasped with excitement since I had never actually felt the strength and speed of these amazingly beautiful animals when in an open and unconstrained space. The powerful all out gallop was completely exhilarating and a pure adrenalin rush.
We rode hard for an hour or so with the hounds baying in the distance but never saw a jackal or any other four legged creature. In all the excitement we had to keep in mind to yell "Hound Right" or "Hound Left" to avoid a careless mishap in case one of the energised beasts mistakenly strayed too close to the horses hooves.
 Once we returned to the starting point we had to dismount, doff our hats at the Master of the Hunt and say " Good Night Master and thank you for the hunt". I could never get to the bottom of this strange custom and why we had to bid the Master 'Good Night' since it was six thirty in the morning!
We would then make our way to the Ooty Club for beer and breakfast - in that order. The uninitiated equestrians who had goofed up in the hunt, taken a tumble or had the temerity to call one of the hounds a 'dog' were made to pay their penalties in bottles of beer!
Still high on adrenaline and the early morning draught we would weave our way home, excitedly discussing the electrifying thrill of this awesome experience.
I did not miss a single Hunt in our eleven month stay in Wellington. The basic routine was the same every time though we started and ended from different locations with quaint names such as Sheep Farm, West Brier, Glenmorgan and Windy Gap. Each ride was undertaken with an impassioned sense of adventure though some were more full of mishaps than others! I found myself in a few hair raisingly  dangerous situations which I managed to survive, but the memories of those once in a life time sensations are still with me today and always will be.

Ready to Ride with Samrat

Friday, 21 February 2014

Equus Addiction

Snarly, Aarti, Minali, Grumpy, Me and Balloo

The circle of riding fanatics were me - Sandip, Minali - Uday, Kilkol - Charlie, Beenu - Rajeev and Aarti who was the only one whose husband unfortunately did not share our passion. The men rode in the early morning while we ladies had to report at  three o'clock in the afternoon. I huffed and puffed for about two weeks until I got my riding legs back and from then on all the passion and love I had for the animal and the sport came flooding back and actually took over my complete existence. Luckily my husband shared my excitement and the crowd we befriended felt the same so we ended up talking, sleeping and dreaming of horses for the next eleven months.
Ladies had their share of falls and most got fed up and left, but us diehards continued and nothing was so terrible that we would think of even missing a day. The 'saabs' who instructed us were quite rude and uncouth and women who moaned and groaned too much were told unsympathetically by them to stay home and 'belo rotis'. These gruff men became the focus of much discussion and were given appropriately nasty nicknames to match their surly demeanours.There were no mobiles in those days so mother would telephone me at a predetermined time once a week. Even these calls were taken at the extension number at the stable office where Minali, Beenu, Arti and me would sit around with flasks of hot tea to be enjoyed after the ride.
Over time the animals grew familiar and beloved  and we would vie for our favourites though we were sternly reprimanded that we should be able to control all types of steed. Once a week we were taking out of the confinement of the ring to go out on a hack into the beautiful countryside. These excursions were sometimes through the neighbouring tea gardens or up an unfamiliar hill but were always breathlessly thrilling since the horses seemed to feel the freedom and were always raring to go. During the couple of term breaks in the college year we opted to stay back and ride while most everybody else left to explore the rest of south India. During these periods we had the most fun as we could choose the  best horses and get away with things that would normally not be allowed.
I must admit though that I don't think I have ever made so many trips to the hospital as there was always some one or the other from the equestrian crowd who had suffered a broken bone or some other injury. Minali and Kilkol both had nasty falls along the way while Sandip too ended up in trouble but that was towards the end of the course and is another story.

Confusion in the riding arena


Monday, 10 February 2014

Settling Down

Aarti with Moody and Easy     Minali with Rogue,Abheer and Avyay
Sandip was immediately plunged into the complex routine of the course while it took me about ten days to unpack and get my bearings in the beautiful surroundings of Wellington. I realised in just a couple of hours that my maid Mable was super efficient and helpful, so promptly dubbed her 'Able Mable'. Some of the ladies I casually met had decided not to open up all their belongings since it was just an eleven month stay but I wanted to be comfortable so quickly organised house and home.
Sandip introduced me to some of his course mates with their wives and the Kolhatkars were the couple who seemed the most interesting. Both Minali and I were keen to join the riding club, she for the first time and me desperately wanting to get back to something I had passionately loved but had not had the opportunity to indulge in for years.
We walked down to the stables to see what we were letting ourselves in for and were immediately surrounded by friendly faces with a like minded interest. We were instructed to get our riding gear together so helmet, breeches and boots were ordered in the currency used for all manner of items - rum!
In those days this was the most common form of payment and one could buy rations, clothes and most everything else for a predetermined number of bottles. There was even an old man who would come around with gorgeous bunches of wild flowers which had to be paid for in pegs. He would unabashedly hold out a container in which one had to measure out the 'daru' in return for the beautiful blooms!!

Me. Aarti and Minali
 Minali and I quickly became inseparable and shared a relationship that was and still is extremely special! We would often sneak out in the car for long drives up to Ooty for a cup of coffee or a jaunt into the quaint little township of Coonor. The group A-ha had come out with their album The Definitive Singles Collection and the strains of 'Take on me' and 'Cry Wolf' can still vividly transport me back to those magical outings in the winding hill roads. Mani Ratnam's 'Roja' had just released and we thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The hauntingly beautiful music of the film echoed from every hillside and till today I think of the songs in Tamil and never could appreciate the later Bollywood version.
Staff college was the one place where individuals formed groups according to their interests and not because they were forced into sharing space together like in a normal squadron. The friendships formed and the bonds made in this one year will stay with me forever, because everything we did was special and fun and I think the intensity of each experience was felt more keenly because we knew we were time bound.