SEHR SAEED - Unique Lady With A Zest For Polo (Part I)

by Shehla Fatah

King Darius of Persia, Qutub-ud-din Aibak, Henry the Eighth, Prince Philip and Prince Charles of England all have two things in common – one, they all belong to royalty and the other, all were and are patrons of the most ancient ball and stick game – Polo.

Polo has its roots in the East and flourished centuries ago in the hill traces of Tibet, Gilgit and Chitral. But like music spreads, this challenging sport penetrated beyond the frontiers. The British exported the game to Britain and from there it reached the domains of the U.S., Australia and South America.

But as the game’s patrons increased in the West, in India polo playing gradually began declining, and by 1947 India had even ceased to be the training ground for British polo players. Ironical as it may seem, today the game is dying in the place of its birth and blooming where it was adopted.

Polo in Pakistan has received little patronage from concerned sports authorities. Except in Gilgit, where even today it is played according to ancient rules, with crude mallets in an enclosed arena, the game elsewhere has lost its significance. Why it met with such a tragic end, can be attributed to various reasons, but the rate at which polo is disappearing, future generations will find it incredible to learn about its glorious past.

In our country, because of its rapidly deteriorating standards, polo attracts few participants and event fewer spectators. Besides other detrimental factors, the politics that reigns supreme amidst its, organisers has played a vital role in its downfall.

The general impression created among people about polo is that it is an elitist sport and to enter the field one must have contacts with influential people, have adequate money to be able to afford expensive horses, and that, it is restricted for children of “Big Shots” only. But rationally seen, there is no reason why the game should be monopolised by a small section of society. If proper facilities are provided, and the game made within easy reach of the general public, it can doubtlessly come up to Argentinean standards, for out of the thousands who will then opt for the game, at least some good players will come to the forefront.

Lone Rider

Karachi, is a big city by international ranking, but it houses only one polo ground which too bears a godforsaken appearance. Here in the evenings or early mornings, one can spot a lone rider or two on horseback or children of foreign origin playing with the ponies. Polo players are seen only a week or two before a tournament, practicing on the dusty track.

Under such uninviting conditions when I heard of a female polo player I was quite perturbed for I could not imagine why she was braving the hardships and wasting her time. Then a year back it came to my knowledge that she had left the country to study abroad and I thought she must have eventually realised her mistake. “But I was mistaken! For when I met her a few weeks back at a polo match I realised that being away from the polo field had only intensified her desire to make a position for herself in the game. This ambitious young lady is Sehr Saeed who has lofty ideals and has spent a major proton of her time practicing and perfecting her game.

Sehr Saeed is no ordinary college-going girl. She is different from others, for not only unlike other girls is she interested in a typically male sport, but she also stands a good six feet in height. Sehr is not much interested in teenage activities like disco sessions, parties or picnics. Presently, she is studying at Mt. Holyoke College, USA preparing to graduate in Political Science.

Sehr was merely eight months old when she first sat on the saddle and was led around the race course ground by an uncle.

How that ride might have affected her is hard to estimate, but it was the first stage of a long association with horses. Though one would have expected her to opt for tennis, being the daughter of famous tennis player Saeed Ahmed, but Sehr preferred to follow in her uncle’s footsteps. It was under his guidance that she started riding at the Karachi Race Course Ground when only 10 years old. After she was trained by Jaja Mian who helped her as an instructor-cum-friend to polish her skills at show jumping and polo.

[Last part of the interview to be concluded next week.]