Day three of the Horse and Cattle Show: Dwindling crowds don’t deter enthusiastic performers
By Ambreen Noon Kazi
LAHORE: The Horse and Cattle Show 2004 performed to dwindling audiences on Wednesday, with even the chief guest, Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi, leaving midway through the performance.
However, for performers from out of town like Abdul Malik from Balochistan, seeing the sights and sounds of Lahore for the first time makes up for the disappointing crowds.
Mr Malik is reserved about his views on the audience. “The first day the stadium was full, and the thunder of the clapping could be heard some way off,” he said. “We have come from so far. People can come and see the performance. It is after all a very good show.”
But viewers at Wednesday’s performance said the routines, though excellent, have been seen in previous tattoo shows at the Fortress Stadium. They felt nothing new had been added to the programme. The horse riders at this show are the same from previous programmes, with familiar family names like the Patodis and Tiwanas leading the parade.
The 5,000 or so performers from outside Lahore have been accommodated at the Gaddafi Stadium. Asrar Ali, a police constable in the NWFP, was here for the last Horse and Cattle Show in 1995 and at the Race Course Mela. “The Punjab government sent cars to pick us up from our provinces and bring us to Lahore. The eight-hour journey was tiring, but its great to be here,” he said.
The highlight of Mr Ali’s trip has been Basant. “Basant is such an interesting event and in the most glorious weather. We looted so many kites,” he adds gleefully.
Zafur Farhan, Aslam and Nasr Abbassi from Jhang have been practising their routine for a year. They too loved Basant and Lahore’s monuments. Sightseeing trips to the Data Darbar, the Badshahi Masjid and Fort were most enjoyable, said 22-year-old Aslam. “Shahi Mohallah was very nice too,” he adds cheekily.
Given a Rs 200 daily stipend for expenses, out of town participants have fed themselves in the restaurants in Liberty and Main Market. But the police recruits from Lahore are given nothing.
Muhammad Saleem, a Lahore policeman, has been taking ludhi training at a school in Chungi. He is in position 15 in the eighth leaf formation dance routine. “Training was for no more than 5-6 days in the Gaddafi Stadium, and only once at the Fortress Stadium,” Mr Saleem said.
Mr Saleem is paid no stipend for the time spent at the stadium. His Rs 6,500 a month salary is supposed to compensate for the time lost in the event. “We often end up spending 12 hours here, from 8 am to 8 pm,” he says. “Being a servant under the local government, we have to come here and perform. If they want us to wear a frock and dance, we have to,” he said, pointing to the orange and white frock he wears above his police uniform.
The students taking part in the event have missed out on school. Arsalan and Abdullah, who perform in the callisthenics display and are class 7 students at Central Model, have enjoyed the break. Having undertaken a rigorous training programme for two and half months, they are very comfortable performing in front of an audience. “It’s not all fun,” says Arsalan, “we get scolded a lot if we mess things up.”
“But we will all get prizes for participating,” adds Abdullah
The Horse and Cattle show also features motorbike stunts. The riders under the leadership of Sardar Pervaiz Akhtar from Sargodha have been performing since 1958, particularly for Defence Day functions. However, despite painstaking safety measures, serious accidents have taken place. In 1989, during the opening performance of the South Asian Federation Games, Mr Akhtar fell off a ladder on a motorbike, breaking his jaw. During the 1992 Horse and Cattle Show, a rider fell off his bike and suffered a brain haemorrhage. But the riders feel the risk is worth the thrill they get from the audience when the stunts go well.
With an average of eight thousand visiting the Horse and Cattle Show daily, the event is an important feather in the Punjab government’s cap, especially since all activities have been peacefully conducted. Despite the president’s absence at the opening ceremony for security reasons, the event has the security backing of nearly 500 army and military personnel, along with multiple bomb squads.