As a kid I used to hear a lot of stories from ‘Dida’. One of the stories which always made me happy and excited was about the ‘Pokhiraj Ghora’, a fairytale horse which can fly. It always made me think that one fine day I would be a prince and ride this horse. Oblivious to the hard hitting reality of life, I spent hours dreaming about my ‘Pokhiraj’, my very own horse, my fantasy. Today, so many years later, I find those times missing from my life, and so is my ‘Pokhiraj’.
A few days back, however I revisited the same thrill and excitement that I felt while hearing those fairytales through a strange experience. I was at Zulpiar, a small simple village at the southern most fringes of Bengal. An interesting name and a unique village. What make this unique are the festivals of this place. Every year during the Radha-Krishna Puja festival, they host a horse running competition. The villagers are enthusiastic about this. Inspite of being a Hindu festival, the horse race participants (the jockeys) and the owners of the horses are from the Muslim community. Not only villagers from Zulpiar but neighboring villages also take part in this horse race. They all unite as one, leaving behind any inhibitions about religion or caste. I was awe struck to see how they raced horses through the paddy fields. A magical moment unfurled in front of me when all the horses were in motion. The race lasts only for a couple of minutes. But the wonder, excitement, feeling and ecstasy prolongs for the rest of the year. The smile that this event brings to the faces of ordinary, poor & hungry people, unknown with the advancement of human race, is astonishing.
One time, horse-racing or breeding usually came in with an attachment to the pride and grandeur of Royalty, which spoke of their wealth and social standing. Down the years, Royal families are fading brigade in India but I was surprised to discover the same vigor and attitude of a proud horse-owner amidst rural settings; wealth not withstanding. In a developing country like India, where man strives to fulfill his basic requirements, there was this village which immersed itself in a horse race, festival, togetherness and delighted in a whole new world. Looking at them, I remember my childhood dreams about my ‘Pokhiraj’, my fairytale horse, and then the boys who were running the horses, turn into my childhood Prince. My childhood world!
They talk to the winds, on the back of their Pegasus. Rain comes down to wash away their tears. With hopes of a new promising day, they return to their mud huts.