Last night it had all seemed a good idea, but then after downing three bottles of Coconut Fenny amputating my foot would have seemed a good idea.
Now standing outside the arena the hot afternoon sun beating down on my neck I’m not so sure.Having once had the dubious pleasure of attending a bullfight in Spain, paying good money to watch a lot of men in tights and funny hats stabbing a bull with pieces of sharp metal, was this an experience I cared to repeat ?
The taxi driver had been very convincing to put it mildly, the man had the selling power of a double-glazing salesman on steroids, “No it’s not like Spanish bullfighting,” he explained, “In Goan bullfights the bulls fight each other, none ever dies, it’s very rare for them to even get hurt, it’s a test of strength,” I must have still looked unconvinced. “They lock horns,” he said locking his fingers to emphasise the point. This man thinks I’m a half-wit. “When the weakest has had enough the fight is over”, he parts his fingers and smiles. Talking very slowly now so I don’t miss the point. “It’s very exciting,? It sounded as exciting as counting the hair on my armpits but I found myself agreeing to go.
Strange as it seems now I had conjured up an image in my mind that the stadium would be a large dignified-looking building, a bit like Wembley; plastic seats miles away from the action, men in white coats selling hot dogs and popcorn. I had forgotten this was India; nothing turns out the way you expect.Magoa stadium, I find to my disappointment is a field the size of a football pitch surrounded by a ten foot canvas screen. Hundreds of people, mostly men are milling around the slit in the canvas that acts as the box office and entrance. I pay my 30rps, once inside I make my way to the fence surrounding the fighting arena, I prod it with the toe of my boot, it didn’t look strong enough to stop a determined chicken, let alone two ton of Brama Bull.
At the far end of the field there’s a ridge of grass about 10 feet high. A large group of men have gathered there, I decide it looks the safest place to observe the forthcoming action. On the way I check out the contestants, American Boy is led into a space set back from the crowd, I’m told he is the red-hot favorite, a legend in the world of bullfighting. Unlike their Spanish counterparts Goan Bulls are big; they come in two sizes, enormous and bloody enormous. American Boy makes the rest look like a herd of Jersey cows.
I’m treated to a preview of his strength, with a flick of his ear the tethering pole that has taken two men 10 minutes to drive into the hard ground with a sledge-hammer pops out like a toothpick. We come to an immediate understanding, I go away or he kills me, I go away.
Up on the ridge sits the organiser,this man also doubles as the bookie, his bright yellow turban bobbing up and down in the crowd like a daffodil in a sea of mud, the Don King of the Goan bullfight, he pours out a non-stop banter of verbal vomit into a microphone that echoes around the ground at a deafening level.
With a roar from the crowd the main contest is about to start. American Boy like all great champs is guided into the arena last. The moment the two bulls see each other all hell breaks loose, the two mountains of meat and muscle snap together like magnets. They push each other this way and that covering a large area of ground and occasionally smashing through the fence and into the terrified spectators.The speed and agility of these giants is awesome.
The two bulls disappear from view into the crowd at the far end of the ridge. I wait, camera at the ready for that elusive award-winning photograph the moment they reappear. Looking round I wonder why everyone is facing away from the action, only then it dawns on me , both bulls have mounted the ridge, American Boy’s opponent fleeing the fight with the champ in hot pursuit.
Now there is nothing in the tourist guidebook of a thousand silly things to do on a Sunday afternoon to prepare you for a situation like this, the sight of two Brama bulls, 20 yards away coming straight for you. I look around for avenues of escape. Most of the people from the far end of the ridge have the same idea, but there is no place to go. I close my eyes and wonder how my next of kin will word the insurance claim form.
If I had the time I would have said something profound or religious but I receive an almighty shove in the back. Thankfully, the crowd moving as one, chose to move in the right direction at the very last moment. The two big guys go thundering by, careering off the ridge back into the arena and crossing the field until they crash through the screen and out into the countryside.
The cheers of the spectators is deafening.
I look around at the expected carnage. Surprisingly no one is seriously hurt, in fact they all appear to be having a really good time, high on adrenaline and excitement like first time parachutist or bungy jumpers on a mass scale.
Covered in sweat and dust I make my way back to where the taxi is parked, lowering my bruised and battered body on to the back seat. Cheerful Charlie the driver asked if I enjoyed the bullfights. Of all the words to describe Goan bullfighting at that moment, oddly “enjoyment” was not the first word that came to mind.
Words Pictures David Coomber TheFitz
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