Tent Peggers of Pakistan

Farmers get ready to harvest. Lahore starts its Jashn-e-Baharan, the festival of flowers and fragrance. There is an ambience of celebrations; with devotion to mark the Urs of Data Ganj Bakhsh, Hazrat Mianmir, Madhoo Lal Hussain Shah and lastly the Urs of Hazrat Shah Jamal. While the urban rejoice their festivals, the streets and bazaars in rural heartland of Punjab resound with placards announcing the schedules of coming melas (festivals, carnivals) and competitions in traditional sports of Pakistan. Tent Peggers warm up and bring their horses in the arena— to prepare for equestrian events delayed due to Feb. 2008 elections. As haze of uncertainty clears up, cool summer winds start blowing, the tent peggers in Punjab and Kashmir set out for more competitive goals than much discussed political themes which are a favorite topic of urbanites.

after 1947 when newly independent states of India and Pakistan struggled through turmoil of partition and started great leaps forward— sometimes successful— sometime failure for modernization, the game came under clouds because of lack of state patronage which ultimately diversified to more glitzy more glamorous games like cricket and squash. Public interest in the cities thus diverted to these games of glamour, yet the landlords, bourgeoisie and the rural folk kept it alive. Funds were provided by them, horses reared, playfields maintained and tent peggers encouraged participating; who were paid sufficient amounts to go on gracefully with the game. This has kept the centuries old game of tent pegging still alive even though the competition from the urban games which lack the grace but do have a lot of pomp and show has really been tough.

Players from Pakistan now regularly participate in international tent pegging competitions and many of them have left indelible impressions by winning gold medals many a times. But there are tent peggers who feel the game has come to qualms because of present day players.

A love and a passion, and its magnetism never cease to allure horse lovers. I was surprised on witnessing the loyalty of trainers and instructors. They lived at the same level of commotion with the horses, as did their owners. One such legendry equestrian instructor was late Malik Mian Muhammad Khan, who served in Mona Depot and later at University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. He not only made a name as an instructor of extraordinary merit, but also had deep knowledge and understanding of equestrian world. His son, Malik Maqsood Awan also stands out among top equestrian instructors of Pakistan.