| Horses at the Sonepur fair. Picture by Deepak Kumar |
As the first rays of the Sun touched the banks of the Gandak, Jabbar Ali’s eyes remained fixed on the silhouette of a stallion warming up at a brisk speed in a vast field.
The brown charger with a strong build raced around a set circumference on the field until one of Jabbar’s assistants asked it to halt.
“I have come to Sonepur Mela with three horses. This horse is a real strong one,” the owner said, taking pride in the grace of the brown stallion. However, the wink of disbelief in his eyes on being asked its price was not missing. “Will you buy it? I think you cannot afford it,” Jabbar was on the face. “The price of a horse usually starts at Rs 50,000 and can go up to Rs 5 lakh, or even more. Two things are important if one wants a better price for his horse. First, the trot of the horse should be even. Second, it should be disciplined. Go around the market and find it out,” the 55-year-old man said, as he walked on towards the field in search of a prospective buyer.
Unlike Patna, where a swanky SUV or a luxury sedan determines a person’s social status, in rural Bihar, the sight of a horse or an elephant at one’s doorstep earns its owner many a wow. “In villages, no one cares whether you have a car or not. Nowadays, almost everybody owns a car. But then if you own a horse or an elephant, people will take notice for certain. Owning such an animal is a status symbol in rural Bihar,” said Amresh Kumar, a Chhapra resident, who has brought three horses to the fair. “I am not here to sell my horses. These animals are only for display. Hamare rutbe ki baat hai (It is about honour). I must tell you that if any horse is up for sale, its breed is very important. There are pure breed horses like Dehra, Punjab, Malkhanpur, Rajasthani and Balhatra. They will sell for nothing less than Rs 5 lakh or Rs 10 lakh. Then, there are many crossbreeds. But such a horse will also cost nothing less than Rs 2 lakh. The trot of a horse is very important and customers look for it, besides conditioning,” Singh told The Telegraph.
At the horse market in the biggest cattle fair of Asia, one can find many people queuing up on both sides of a narrow causeway at one end of the venue. Suddenly, a race starts with at least six to seven stallions competing in a show of strength, power and control. As the cheers from the people, added with the snorting and neighing of the horses, gain momentum, more join the race.
“There are many who choose horses at such races. I am one of them. I might not buy one immediately. But I will certainly come back,” said Jagmohan Singh, a farmer from Bhojpur. Among the many horses standing quietly at one corner, there was a brown steed in a special tent with a medal round its neck.
“This is the Bihar Champion and its cost is around Rs 10 lakh. It has won many prizes at various races. I cannot say more, as I am just an attendant. But I have seen it running and it is lightning fast,” the attendant said.