The Silver Fox – AVE ATQUE VALE
“Hail and Farewell” to Colonel Raj Kalaan who announced his retirement this year from playing elephant polo. This towering stalwart of the game has, at the game age of 72, hung up his long sticks and determined himself to settle into the side lines for future tournaments. His illustrious career stretched to having won 6 WEPA World Championships, 2 TEPA Championships and 3 CEPA Championships; it is only fitting that we take a look at one of most well known characters on the tour.
Raj had a long and distinguished career in the Indian Army; while WEPA was going through its initial years Raj was commanding the 61st Cavalry Regiment. He had been playing horse polo for his country and Regiment through the 1970’s and 1980’s, captaining the India National team from 1980 – 1983. In 1987 Raj retired from the army and so, with a few spare days in his diary he headed to Nepal to see his long time friend, A V Jim Edwards and play elephant polo in Chitwan. It was the same year that Peter Prentice first arrived on the elepolo scene and, while one could say the rest is history, it would be a short and dull tribute.
Raj’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the horse game meant that he was just the man to advise the nascent tournament as to how to mould the normal rules, to take into account the pachyderm essence of our game. He was made a committee member in that same year and has continued ever since to be a guiding light of wit, wisdom and encouragement, to all those who venture near the sport. His devotion to and support for the game can be evidenced in many ways but possibly, none more so than this statistic: from 1987 to date he has missed only one tournament, in 2003.
In 1989, captaining the Oberoi team, Raj won his first WEPA World Championship. It was no surprise, with Raj’s love of Scotch and international talent that shortly afterwards he was poached over to the Chivas Regal Scotland team. This was the team that he played for in the majority of his tournaments and about which, if approached correctly, he will regale you with tales concerning the atmosphere of gentlemanly competition and heady victories that it encompassed.
As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman and this is no exception. Sunny Kalaan is the beautiful and charming wife who has accompanied Raj wherever he has played. She is also the lady who moulded two talented sons into fine gentlemen while Raj was putting them through the rigours of becoming international polo players in their own right.
Raj’s expeditionary nature, competitive edge and ever thoughtful wish to see others succeed meant that he has also been one of the founding fathers of Mongolian polo. As Colonel Stuart Beatson brought the modern form of polo with him (when he was commissioned by the Maharaja of Jodhpur to raise the Jodhpur Lancers) in 1889, so Colonel Raj Kalaan, through his friendships with Jim Edwards and Christopher Gierke, effectively and pretty much single-handedly brought the skills of the sport to the Mongolian polo renaissance. There is no doubt that while he may retire from playing, Raj’s hallmark will continue to be imprinted on many a polo ground and tournament – be they equine or elephantidine.
We all wish Raj a comfortable retirement from his playing duties at WEPA and dearly hope that he will be present at many future tournaments. While it will never be the same without him on the pitch we will still enjoy wholeheartedly his ability to temper the younger players and advise the older, be it in the Committee meetings, on the side lines or over a well deserved whisky in the golghar.