We drove off to find the best viewing spot, which turned out to be the crest of
the hill so we could see the approaching race. I asked the lads if we could join in the
‘Wacky Races’ and follow the donkeys, and they loved the idea. ‘We'll open the car
boot, you climb inside and point your camera towards the race. As the donkeys
overtake us, we'll join the cars.’ ‘But will you try and get to the front?’ ‘Oh yes,
that’s no problem.’
The two lads who had never been interested in this Karachi sport were suddenly
fired up with enthusiasm. We waited for eternity on the brow of the hill, me perched
in the boot with a zoom lens pointing out. Nearly one hour later I was beginning to
feel rather silly when the only action was a villager on a wobbly bicycle, who nearly
fell off as he cycled past and gazed around at us.
Several vehicles went past, and some donkey-carts carrying spectators. ‘Are they
coming?’ we called out to them. ‘Coming, coming,’ came the reply. I was beginning
to lose faith in its happening, but the lads remained confident.
Just as I was assuming that the race had been cancelled, we spotted two
approaching donkey-carts in front of a cloud of fumes and dust created by some fifty
vehicles roaring up in their wake. As they drew nearer, Yaqoob revved up the engine
and began to inch the car out of the lay-by. The two donkeys were almost dwarfed
by their entourage; but there was no denying their speed — the Kibla donkey is said
to achieve speeds of up to 40 kph, and this looked close. The two were neck-and neck,
their jockeys perched on top of the tiny carts using their whipsenergetically,
although not cruelly.
THE NOISE OF THE APPROACHINGVEHICLES GREW; HORNSTOOTING, BELLSRINGING, AND THE
SPECIAL RATTLES USED JUST FOR THIS PURPOSE (LIKE MARACAS, A METAL CONTAINER FILLED WITH
DRIED BEANS). Men standing on top of their cars and vans, hanging out of taxis and
perched on lorries, all cheered and shouted, while the vehicles jostled to get to the
front of the convoy.
Yaqoob chose exactly the right moment to edge out of the road and swerve in
front of the nearest car, finding the perfect place to see the two donkeys and at the
30 front of the vehicles. This was Formula One without rules, or a city-centre rush hour
gone anarchic; a completeflouting of every type of traffic rule and common sense.
Our young driver relished this unusual test of driving skills. IT WAS SURVIVAL OF THE
FITTEST, AND DEPENDED UPON THE ABILITY TO CUT IN FRONT OF A VEHICLE WITH A SHARP FLICK
OF THE STEERING WHEEL (NO LANE DISCIPLINE HERE); QUICK REFLEXES TO SPOT A GAP IN THE
TRAFFIC FOR A COUPLE OF SECONDS; NERVES OF STEEL, AND AN EFFECTIVE HORN. THERE WERE
TWO RACES — THE MOTORIZED SPECTATORS AT THE BACK; IN FRONT, THE TWO DONKEYS, STILL RUNNING CLOSE AND AMAZINGLY NOT PUT OFF BY THE UPROAR JUST BEHIND THEM. AHEAD OF THE DONKEYS, ONCOMING TRAFFIC — FOR IT WAS A MAIN ROAD — HAD TO DIVE INTO THE DITCH AND WAIT THERE UNTIL WE HAD PASSED. YAQOOB LOVED IT. We stayed near to the front, his hand permanently on the horn and his language growing more colourful with every
vehicle that tried to cut in front. …
The road straightened and levelled, and everyone picked up speed as we neared
the end of the race. BUT JUST AS THEY WERE REACHING THE FINISHING LINE, THE HOSPITAL
GATE, THERE WAS A NEAR PILE-UP AS THE LEADING DONKEY SWERVED, LOST HIS FOOTING AND HE AND THE CARTTUMBLED OVER. THE RACE WAS OVER.
AND THEN THE TROUBLE BEGAN. I assumed the winner was the one who completed
the race but it was not seen that way by everyone. Apart from the two jockeys and
'officials' (who, it turned out, were actually monitoring the race) there were over a
hundred punters who had all staked money on the race, and therefore had strong
opinions. Some were claiming that the donkey had fallen because the other one had
been ridden too close to him. VOICES WERE RAISED, FISTS WERE OUT AND TEMPERS RISING.
Everyone gathered around one jockey and official, while the bookmakers were trying
to insist that the race should be re-run.
Yaqoob and Iqbal were nervous of hanging around a volatile situation. They
agreed to find out for me what was happening, ordering me to stay inside the car as
they were swallowed up by the crowd. They emerged sometime later. ‘It’s still not
resolved,’ said Iqbal, ‘but it's starting to get nasty. I think we should leave.’ As we
drove away, Yaqoob reflected on his driving skills. ‘I really enjoyed that,’ he said as
we drove off at a more sedate pace. ‘But I don't even have my licence yet because
They both found this hilarious, but I was glad he hadn’t told me before; an
inexperienced, underage driver causing a massive pile-up in the middle of the high-
stakes donkey race could have caused problems.
- reference to a kids cartoon show to emphasise how ridiculous it is
"I asked the lads"
-informal language makes the story more personal and fits the humorous nature of the story
"'But will you try and get to the front'"
- use of direct speech to make the reader feel like we're there
"We waited for eternity"
- hyperbole emphasises how long the wait was and creates anticipation
"revved up the engine"
- prominent "v" makes the scene more vivid as it creates sound
- use of onomatopoeia helps create a vivid picture of the scene
"speeds of up to 40 kph"
- use of numbers gives the reader a clear idea of the speed
"horns tooting, bells ringing and the special rattles"
- triplet adds emphasis to the excitement
- lots of description of sound to create a vivid scene
"(like maracas, a metal container filled with dried beans")
- use of brackets to change the tone to give information
- comparison to something familiar so that reader understands
"Men standing on top of their cars... and perched on lorries."
- parallel to "Jockeys perched on top of tiny carts" in paragraph four
- this shows a parallel between the race that the jockeys are taking part in and the race of the crowds to get to the event
"This was Formula One without rules."
- comparison to a familiar event that the reader will know to create a better idea of her experience
- emphasises how fast and dangerous it was
"It was survival of the fittest"
- reference to Charles Darwin, which reader will understand
- exaggeration brings across a comic tone
"-for it was a main road-"
-use of parenthesis to add in extra information and change the tone
-use of long sentences to create the sense that a lot was going on at once
"The race was over"
- contrast to the rest of the paragraph which was made up of long sentences so draws attention to the race being over
- very short and dramatic so adds emphasis to how suddenly it was over
"Voices were raised, fists were out and tempers rising"
- use of triplet to emphasise the chaos
"Yaquoob and Iqbal"
- use of names to make it more personal so the reader gets to know the people too
"swallowed up by the crowd"
- metaphor to put emphasis on the huge size of the crowd
- personification - gives the reader a sense of danger and how the crowd moved as a whole in an almost animalistic manner
A Game of Polo with a Headless Goat
Read July 2004
Note: This book is not for the sqeamish. However much the author may attempt to dispel stereotypes, many readers will simply not be comfortable even contemplating dog-fighting or cock-fighting, say, and that's some of what this book covers. With that disclaimer in place, I will proceed to review non-judgmentally.
Emma Levine is an adventurous woman who wrote a passionate book about cricket in unusual places on the Indian subcontinent. In the course of her travels, she became interested in other, more indigenous sports in the area. This is her account of them.
This book is part travelogue and part account of sports, and is sadly the poorer for being neither one and, in particular, not more of the latter. Too often, accounts of her trip interfere with her description of a sporting activity; and you sometimes get the sense she's traveling to keep score, not to truly digest the sports she encounters, ready to move on once she's seen a bit of the action. It's a pity, too, that she isn't better at describing sports, or that she doesn't care more about the scoring systems she encounters. Or that her book wasn't more carefully edited. Or...
But enough complaining. You can't help but admire her tenacity, patience and plain passion for her travels. She ranges freely from Anatolia across the Five 'Stan's (as Western writers like to refer to the formerly-Soviet central Asian countries) to southern and, more impressively, the often inaccessible far-eastern reaches of India. Even more amazingly, she does this while apparently remaining a vegetarian. And while some of the sports she encounters are fairly plain, others are intriguing and some even beautiful. Virtually none of them will ever feature in Sports Illustrated.
One serious problem with her travelogue format is that she doesn't better unify sports across countries. Not surprisingly, she finds many variations of the same sport in different places (ranging from wrestling to various demonstrations of horseback prowess). But by organizing the book temporally, she only weakly identifies these cross-cutting sports and does a poor job of comparing them.
One other thing that might disturb a reader is Levine's utter non-judgmentalism. She sometimes takes a swipe at societies that leave women downtrodden, but manages to maintain contact with some of the harshest fundamentalist societies of recent times with nary a comment. For one thing, I prefer books that don't aren't shrill, so Levine's attitude suited me fine. Besides, I wonder if Levine really doesn't mind -- if someone more judgmental would have tolerated what she did on her travels.
Overall, this is a report of a heroic effort that archives sports that may slowly disappear, like languages, before global onslaughts. We should be grateful to Levine for archiving them while they last.