Trotting with American guests

I have never been good at sports, that particular crown in the family has long been held by my brother who has naturally excelled in any sport that he decided to play. Being at Yadavindra Public School meant compulsory games, and I acquitted myself reasonably well on the field, even if without much distinction.

A representation of the seal of the Vice-President of the United States of America

A representation of the seal of the Vice-President of the United States of America

As a child, I would read late into the night and would be fast asleep when he woke up with the rising sun to go riding with the grooms who took out horses from the nearby stables in Patiala for the morning ride. Ravi rode, went tent-pegging and played polo, besides being an excellent swimmer, squash player…, you get the picture, he was the outdoorsy kind, I a bit of a nerd.

It was in Delhi that we started riding together in the mid-1980s. We had access to great horses, and the best of training facilities. After the initial bit when I rode like a sack of potatoes, I started enjoying myself. Our equestrian adventure was courtesy the then President Zail Singh, and we would often ride with his grandsons, Gurinder Singh and Rupinder Singh. It was wonderful to ride in the Parade Ground and the forested area around Willington Crescent. This was followed by a cup of tea at the Presidents’ Estate Polo Club with fellow riders like Vikram Sodhi, Dr Sam and Tony Singh, which made for a great start to many a morning.

One day we were told to be on time, and be smartly attired. We were to escort a ‘family member’ of the US Vice-President, George H W Bush, the next morning. There we were, attired in crisp white Jodhpurs and polished brown riding shoes, turbans tied with extra-special care at 5.30 am, waiting for the visitor. To no one’s surprise, the President’s Body Guard (PBG) personnel too were snappily turned out. Soon we were joined by the visiting guest, her bodyguard and other personnel. We exchanged pleasantries, and it was time to pick out a horse for the young lady.

The PBG has the choicest of horses in the country, and obviously for the guest it was nothing but the best. We asked her to pick her mount, and she went with what had been recommended for her. The rest of us mounted and we trotted off on the riding trail. It soon became apparent that she was an excellent rider. She told me she wanted to go at a faster pace. The Risaldar Sahib was so instructed, and the trot turned into canter. The bodyguard, however, was not quite in the same league, and at one time he found himself discreetly flanked by two PBG jawans, ready for any contingency. He knew what was going on, and this made him even more determined to carry on.

It was a great ride. The trail meandered though a forest and the hustle-bustle of the Capital was left behind as we spotted peacocks, heard partridges and saw small rabbits scurry across the path. We had a great time and sat down for tea after the ride. Then it was time to part. We exchanged tokens. We gave her some Jaipuri knick-knacks, and she gave us little coat pins with the monogram of the Vice-President of the United States. I wore this pin when I went to the White House the next year, but that is another story.

In the evening at Rashtrapati Bhavan I saw the bodyguard again, now formally attired. He was standing a bit stiffly, understandably, given our morning excursion. As our eyes met, I felt that I fleetingly saw a slight grimace on his face. Or was it? I don’t really know; these Secret Service types are inscrutable at the best of times.

This middle by by Roopinder Singh was published in The Tribune on July 27, 2013.

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