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A polo club with a difference

November 19, 2003 12:27 IST

In 1997, Colonel Kuldeep Singh Garcha could have easily retired after 32 years in the Indian army.

The former commandant of 61st Cavalry instead spent the year wrapping up his two-year-old family-run concern ESQ Business Services, a software company involved with developing forex-related and anti-money laundering software processes for a US bank.

On the side, he cemented his long association with Maharani Gayatri Devi's Gee Stud farm and became the managing director of the company with 50 per cent ownership.

Next, he set up People.com Consultants India in Noida, the Indian subsidiary of the US-based company founded by his son Satinder. He spent three years hiring software developers for the parent IT consulting firm.

Fast forward to December 7, 2000, five day's before Garcha's 57th birthday: the father-son duo struck a deal with American billionaire Andrew J McKelvey, then the majority stakeholder of NYSE-listed billion-dollar company TMP Worldwide, which owns online recruitment brands like Monster.com.

They sold People.com to TMP Worldwide for an undisclosed sum running into millions, the exact figure is a tightly-guarded family secret. "When opportunity knocks softly, it's common sense to take it," says Garcha.

The 5-goal handicap, Arjuna awardee who has jostled in the polo field with royals such as Prince Charles, is now promoting his pet project -- Jaipur Riding and Polo Club -- as a hot polo destination.

Located in Bindayika, 26 km from Jaipur, the 31-acre private club is equipped with eight suites and offers chukkas for professionals as well as exhibition matches for high-profile tourists for $225 a night. And it's not just horse polo that you get out of this deal, but camel and elephant polo as well.

"Whenever players come to my field, I want to give them a fine carpet to play on. At an average we see three to four foreign players who come to our club to learn the game," says Garcha.

The club has held exhibition matches for diverse groups like Credit Suisse Bank, Harvard University students and officials of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But the commercial aspect of the club, Garcha says, is mainly to "recover costs" and is peripheral to his real ambition: to build his polo team Zara, into a formidable force in the field.

He's bought 18 polo ponies from Argentina and New Zealand as well as thoroughbreds in India, taking the total horse count to 46.

He's tapped Argentinian players Gerardo Mazzini and Alegandro Travoso to play for him, and has even flown in a gaucho from Argentina to oversee his horse management department.

So far, JRPC is the only private polo club in India which has organised polo tournaments for three consecutive years; Modi Enterprises Trophy (patron: Godfrey Phillips), Jagat Singh Memorial Cup (Gayatri Devi), Royal Kashmir Cup (Vikramaditya Singh) and Jaipur Gold Cup (JPRC).

To add financial muscle, he is exhorting corporate houses to let his team play under their brandname; so far the company has played for Taj Krishna in Hyderabad and Clarkes Amir hotel in Jaipur. Garcha says similar deals will be struck in future.

Once the game of the royalty, polo declined after the privy purses were abolished in 1971. During the last few years, it has seen a steady revival and modest sponsorship. Garcha also wants to have the crowds back.

"In Bindayika, I send a jeep to inform people in the village about a match. I even give prizes for the best dressed couple, so everyone arrives in their shimmering best," says Garcha.

And when high tea is served to the pearl and chiffon set, the village commoners get a samosa-barfi treat.

"Getting people to see the game promotes the game. And you don't need an MBA from a business school to understand HR management. It's just common sense," says Garcha.

Maitreyee Handique