Race of a lifetime

Race of a lifetime

It was a race of a lifetime I got to witness. It neither involved horses nor cars but a pair of buffaloes racing on a slushy track with a determined athlete in tow. Much like the sturdy pair of bovine, the athlete with six-packs was no less determined to win the race either. It has been a long-held tradition of celebrating man-animal co-existence for a bountiful harvest in coastal Karnataka. And, there were many teams from different coastal villages vying for the coveted title.

I had my first brush with this cultural extravaganza, called Kambala, a few years ago in Venur, a village in the coastal region of Mangaluru. It was a pleasant wintry evening in January 2011. The well-lit arena was decked up in celebration with people in all hues thronging the racing track to cheer the competing duo. What began as a thanksgiving event for protecting the cattle against diseases, this annual racing event has grown into a competitive sport that enthrals and entertains. The animal rights activists may continue to think otherwise!

Keeping pace with raging buffaloes on the slush track was indeed testing; the bovines ran as if they were running for their life. Racing at an incredible speed, it was a perfect test of human endurance against incredible bovine power. Half a dozen villagers had to herd together to control the animals at the finish line. They calmed the animals by giving it a hug, making it eat and resting it before the next race. Each of the racing pairs looked well-groomed and healthy, as did the accompanying athletes.

Were the animals tortured during training? Were they intoxicated to run the way they did? The organisers led me to the animal resting places so that I could see for myself. “These are no ordinary cattle, they bring laurels to the village,” quipped a team member. They are treated like sportsmen, nurtured and trained in the art of racing from early years. No wonder, there were no marks of external injury on any of the participating animals. So much is at stake that some owners train their buffaloes in a separate swimming pool to get them used to the racing conditions before every event.

As these special animals are treated like children and selected for their sturdy features, including disease resistance, I am of the opinion that this annual cultural event is more than just an occasion for fun and frolic. It promotes the process of natural selection. The best among buffaloes get selected, nurtured and tested. The animals people race are those that help breed the next generation of calves — sturdy young ones to withstand adverse conditions. That such a valuable process is conducted by the communities at their own initiative, and for the benefit of the society at large, surely calls for a celebration!

So, let the race begin.