Posted by: itsme | February 6, 2010

Cock-Fighting in the Woods

After visiting the temples of Barsoor, I try to get a bus to Chitrakot, a place of a famous waterfall. Someone at Barsoor says that there is no bus for another three hours. I also suspect that this bus may never turn up since it is an infrequent service as few use this route. So I think it’s better to return to Jagdalpur.

On the return bus, lots of villagers board it at different locations. Most are carrying large bundles or wicker baskets packed and bound in secrecy. A village man boards with a cockerel that lets out its anger at regular intervals along the way. At a place named Bastarnagar, most of these people get off. It is Saturday and it is market day at this particular village.

All over Chhattisgarh there are such weekly markets at different villages. Such gatherings are something to watch. You will get to see goods not seen otherwise. It is a glimpse into village life and people. It is said that sometimes barter is done instead of using modern currency.

I give Bastarnagar a miss. In fact, I didn’t know that there is a market here today. I was told earlier that there is a market at Pamela, a place not far from Jagdalpur. So I am on my way to this place not only to see the market but also to catch a local sport – cock-flighting.

I remind the bus conductor more than once to let me know where to alight. He is busy counting the cash. I miss my stop and reach Jagdalpur instead. So my plans for the afternoon are in disarray. I am confused what to do next.

I walk about a kilometer and try to get a direct bus to Chitrakot. No one has any information about buses to Chitrakot. I give up the idea and head out to Annapoorna thali for a late lunch. If ever you should be in Jagdalpur, you should not miss a meal at this restaurant. Prices are reasonable, service is good and the quality of the meals is excellent. Anybody will tell you the way to the restaurant. It is that popular.

After lunch I walked to the bus station again. I am wondering if I should catch a bus to Pamela. I ask someone.

‘There is no cock-flighting at Pamela today,’ he says.

That’s not what I had learnt yesterday. With such conflicting information, I needed another source. I ask a policeman just stepping out from behind a curtain at the doorway to his office.

‘Is there any cock-flighting nearby?’

‘What’t it today?’ he asks himself. ‘Saturday isn’t it? There is one at Sargipal.’

Sargipal is just a couple of kilometers from the bus station. I starting walking towards it. At a junction, I enquire a man.

‘You don’t have to walk to the village. You walk through the railway quarters until you hit the railway line. Then you walk left parallel to the tracks. You will find it in the woods.’

I thank him for his detailed directions. I walk for only a minute when he comes behind in his bike and offers me a ride. He has obviously decided it would be a good idea to spend the afternoon at cock-fighting. It is quite a spectator sport with large amounts of money changing hands.

We ride a dirt track in the open. Soon pine woods are to our left. A track leads into it. It is narrow and certainly not for four-wheelers or even auto-rickshaws. Under a towering canopy of pines there is a buzz of activity. Cycles and bikes are parked in the woods around a circular clearing. Light slanting from the west is filtered and dispersed by the canopy. A ring of branches and leaves dance lightly as they frame the sky at the clearing. It is a spectacular setting.

All the action in a rapt circle of spectators

All the action in a rapt circle of spectators

There is no noise or commotion when I arrive. The scene is one of anticipation. Villagers arrive, some as spectators and others as owners of beautiful fighting cocks. The birds are brilliantly feathered. Light glanzes off their shining feathers to dazzle the mellowed light of the woods. While this is solely a male sport, women are cooking fried stuff. Others are hawking raw meat, stuff I have never seen before. A white frothy broth is stirred and kept ready in earthern pots. I realize that many men are already drunk.

Fight has not yet begun in any formal manner. Each owner tries to find a proper adversary for a evenly matched fight. The cock is let loose before a potential adversary. Funnily, sometimes the two cocks get along very well and no amount of coaxing will get either of them to start a fight. So the search goes on. If a suitable match is found, the fight is registered formally and the cocks go into the ring.

Before the match begins, bets are taken. Everyone is involved in some way or another. It doesn’t take anything to become a bookie. I am approached a couple of times.

‘Twenty thirty on Somdas?’ the guy asks me. He means odds at 1:1.5.

‘No. I am not taking bets,’ I tell him.

Inside the fenced enclosure, those who have paid the entrance fee, sit in a ring. They sit on their haunches, some with future fighters in their hands. A burly man with a bushy moustache weilds a cane to keep the crowd at a reasonable distance. The cocks need sufficient fighting space.

Outside the enclosure, a man is smoking his cheroot. People are waiting with their cash in hand to place bets. Two cocks are informally fighting it out while their owners look on. A small group has gone off to gamble on dice, large ones thrown from a wicker basket. The odds of winning are low and the gamemaker is sure to make a lot of money by the end of the evening. I make two villagers to pose with their fighters for a quick snap. Inside the arena, the first fight for the evening is set to begin.

Trainers and their charges ready for a fight

Trainers and their charges ready for a fight

For all the expectation and build up, the first fight is over before I realize it. It happens in a flash, in a flurry of dust. The fight lasts perhaps only ten seconds. The loser falls flat to the ground, bleeding from the throat. Somdas’ bird has won. Each bird is attached with a sharp curving blade, about 2.5 inches long. This blade is attached to the right foot and pointing backwards. This is the sword of cock-flighting that makes this sport brutal. Cock-fighting was banned in England in 1835 but Indian villagers still continue to enjoy it in full freedom.

The next fight is more interesting. It lasts for a few minutes before the loser is taken off the ring. He is not dead but the owner has accepted defeat.

Somdas makes his entrance for another fight. He is matched against Jairam. The owners take to the ring with their birds. The feathers of the neck are ruffled. The thighs are massaged. The birds are placed on the ground but held back by the tail feathers. When the moment is right, the birds are let go. There is a clash, a flash of the deadly swords. The dust settles. The owners stop the fight to check for injuries. Somdas’ bird is bleeding lightly. In that moment all the bets are change in favour of Jairam. New bets are placed.

The blades are washed and wiped clean. Once again muscles are massaged. Birds are stroked to get them into prime fighting mood. The birds are let go amidst appreciations from the circling crowd. The fight continues in this manner for seven minutes. In the final stage, the loser, bleeding from under the wing, aspires for revenge. He continues to attack but finally totters and falls flat. He raises his head for one last look at the scene around him. He gasps, each gasp thinner than the one before, as he bleeds to death. The dead warrior is removed from the arena, the blade removed. Lifeless, he is left in a corner at the end of a trail of blood.

Fights continue to the final moments of sunset. By the end of the evening, five birds are dead and four more injured. The winners also sustain injuries but they will return again with more experience. These are gladiators of the aviary world. Many men are richer but many more have lost heavily. Through a silhouette of darkening pines, the sun is throwing its final rays. The sky has reddened. The earth too has reddened with spilt blood.

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