Like most in the twin districts, I too had heard about Kambala quite early in my childhood. But had never witnessed one, as Idea of losing precious night-sleep, just for knowing which among those dark and not so lovable animals would run fastest, never amused me. However, strange behaviour of some of my fellow villagers while talking about Kambala started nagging me. I was baffled with the overt excitement in their voices while talking about it. Often I saw sparkle in their eyes and also a strange undertone of joy and pride in their voices. This made me believe that Kambala had some special virtue that I had failed to figure out and I felt the need to know it. Hence, when my friends organised a visit to Aikala Kambala as part of a family get together, I joined them. I am glad, I did.
I chose a strategic location to watch. It was on one end of the slush filled long narrow twin racing fields, just beyond the finishing line. Once settled, I started observing every development carefully, to get the answer. I squinted towards the far end, where all the action was. There were two pairs of buffalo's, each accompanied by a dozen of Homo sapiens. The men were struggling hard to make the beasts stand at the starting line but to their utter dismay the buffalos were not cooperating; moving abruptly every time they came close. The buffalos looked like unwilling groom of Hindi cinema, where as the assistants looked, dowry hungry parents. As this activity got stretched I opted to wander around.
Men attired in traditional Mundu or Lungi were all around. Women, like the lizards of the deserts, had chosen sneaky places to sit and hide ( I wasn't sure from whom they were hiding, men or buffalos). It was a pleasant experience to see people of all categories, age and economy group together in the same place and similar dresses as all looked part of an extended family. It looked as if everyone from the village was present there, be it the poor daily wage labourers, the octogenarians who had stopped frequenting the markets, youth, naughty kids, or a man who had left for Mumbai a decade ago. It was then that I noticed first breakthrough for the day. At the Kambala, amazingly, every one looked equal. The poor-rich divide, which was so obvious on the streets, was absent or at least heavily diminished. There was a feeling of oneness. Every one appeared a human being, just a human being. Whether, this aura of unity had something to do with the Kambala Mystery? I wondered.
The fields around were vast and of impressive size. Mother Nature had manifested herself in an extremely lavish manner there. A stream of water flowing as a Nala snaked across like a garland, proving to be the lifeline for the adjacent greenery. Trees surrounded the arena from all sides as if to form a green colosseum for our buffalo - gladiators. The tall barren mountains in the back yard were dark and prohibitive to look like the places reserved for the Gods and sages to sit and watch the Kambala. These lush surroundings looked apt stage for holding the age-old tradition. The comfort that was seeping into me gave second enlightenment for the day. I realised that serenity of the place coupled with the freedom that it offered from the day to day rat race, were some priceless virtues that made Kambala so special to people.
Then I noticed the guy on the mike, it took me very little time to know that his role assumes as much importance as that of the buffalo. Uttering dialogues which were both amusing as well as commanding, he kept the mood upbeat with vivid and imaginative commentary and also with some timely gems which he chose to deliver at regular intervals. He was quick to spite anyone who would displease him be it a camera flashing journalists, slow moving competitor or even the disorderly spectator. I noticed that even while shouting at people he maintained the charm and regal touch in his language and dialogue delivery. You violate any rule and he'll make you feel as worthless as a three legged buffalo in a race. He played a key role by keeping the mood elevated, all the time.
Moving in the outer yard I saw the team preparations. The team associates were busy in preparatory activities like feeding, washing, nursing and pampering the buffalos. They did it all with great dedication as if they were priests for those four legged Gods. Some of them were drunk but all were thoroughly enjoying what they were doing. The Jockeys, who run the buffalo, had standout personality. With distinctly athletic features their physique commanded instant attention from every onlooker. Their naturally groomed frame looked the best prototypes for ideal and healthy human physique. I would warn the Salmans and Shahruks of the world not to visit Kambala unless they are prepared for a terrible streak of inferiority complex seeing their six packs.
Kambala is also a food fest with Tulunadu cuisine as its theme.
All Illustrious South-Canara delicacies line up together like Ramba, Menaka, Urvashi in heaven. Be it the crunchy Charmuri or sensual Neerdosa, yummy Pulimunchi or the divine Kori Sukka, everything adds up to be an irresistible temptation. Not to forget the famous Kori Rotti, the best seller. Biting the crispy Charmuri in my mouth, I felt like shouting “Eureka”. The amazing feeling of satisfaction on the faces people who were munching, crunching, licking and biting those delicacies, made me feel I was quite close to solving the Kambala jigsaw puzzle and started visualising myself triumphant.
A sudden and progressively intensifying noise made by the crowd woke me out of my trance. I rushed towards the finishing line and saw an amazing scene. The unruly grooms, I mean beasts, had finally obliged and the race had begun. The buffalos were let loose and were coming running at an awesome speed, with a wave of slush being created in the fields.
It was a pleasure to watch the buffalos running. The dark and huge beasts were both fierce and majestic in their sprint, giving their best, extracting every ounce of energy. The muscular men behind them ran like Olympic sprinters. Their coordinated effort looked a wonderful scene to watch. Within moments, the brigade had reached the finishing line. The noise made by the crowd reached the pinnacle, the man saying commentary was on top of his voice. The slush was getting thrown to meters height and the human faces around were full of smile and excitement. Then I noticed the most remarkable thing to happen for the day, surprisingly, I too was happy, on seeing one pair of buffalo crossing the finishing line ahead of the other!
In the end, my detective mission was accomplished. The events made me realise the reasons that made buffalo race so important to people of my village and every village in Tulunadu. I learnt that some times, the process of getting the result could be far more enriching and significant than the result itself. Kambala was not just a race but was an activity that helps Tuluva to revisit his cultural heritage and relive his real identity. Along with being a tradition of Tulu culture it serves as an apt representation of the spirit and philosophy of life of people who live here.This realisation made me feel victorious, perhaps like a buffalo who had won the last race. I must add, I love the buffalos now, as much as I love their race.