“ A horse ! A horse ! My kingdom for a horse !” shouted King Richard when all was lost on the battlefield. As a kid, I too shouted for a horse with no kingdom to offer. No one listened to me. Perhaps it was odd that I wanted a horse when kids of my age wanted a bike. How could anyone know that my dream was to ride a horse ? To me it was the most beautiful animal and so graceful in its movements. My parents perhaps feared that I may end up as a Tonga driver !
“ Why don’t you go to the park and take a ride on the horse there? “ suggested a friend of mine. He could never understand that I wanted to ride a horse, a stallion, galloping across the fields and jumping obstacles like the way cowboys do.
Years passed and all I could do was to ride my bicycle to college, but no horse. When I finished college, I was told that if I joined the Services like the Army or the Air Force, I would be taught horse riding. That did it. I joined the Air Force.
We were given a close haircut and a lengthy briefing by the Sergeant on the do’s and don’ts of the life in the Air Force. “Any questions ? “ he asked at the end. I meekly stood up and asked him if horse riding was part of the syllabus.
“ Well “, said the Sergeant twirling his moustache, ” we had a Riding Club but we had to close it last year. Instructions from Headquarters.” Lady luck was not on my side.
My first posting was to Poona, the biggest Station in the Air Force. After the initial briefing by the Adjutant, I was shown into the office of the commanding Officer. I listened to his expectations of me and waited for the famous question,” Any questions?“. I was much bolder now and asked him if I could join the horse riding club. He thought I was an expert horse rider seeing my enthusiasm. “ You are in luck, my boy”, smiled the boss.” Meet Flight Lieutenant Patankar. He is in charge.“ I was happy to know that he lived in the same Mess where I stayed. His room was locked.
” Saab, haspithaal mein hein” said his bearer.
Patankar was sleeping in the ward with his leg in plaster. It was all his mistake, he said sadly. He had not noticed the ditch but the horse did. It stopped all of a sudden and let Patankar do the leap. Once discharged he would be only too happy to take me in as a member since there was no one else. I learnt later that the horse was mad and would soon be disposed off. I found myself riding a scooter, but still no horse.
When I sat on the mule, on a trip to Kashmir, I was overcome with self pity. Perhaps I was destined only to ride a mule led by the owner. It was a long ride which did not seem to end. I asked him if he was showing me a spectacular view of the snow clad peaks. It was a surprise which he had kept for the last minute. It was the place where the film “ Bobby” was shot. I did not have the heart to be angry with him.
Much water has flown under the bridge since then and many summers have passed. I have retired but the never-say-die attitude is still holding on. I met a senior retired Cavalry officer the other day at the bar, who must have lived a better part of his life riding horses. When I expressed my life long desire to him, he looked at me from top to bottom, took a large sip of beer and said, ” My friend, I’ll tell you something. Horses are very temperamental creatures. They can throw the best riders off their backs. A fall can be fatal you know”, and took another sip.
” If I were you” he said wiping his lips, “ I would take up bird watching.”