FAISALABAD: A hop, skip, jump and off they go; soaring to new heights. Flapping their wings at a furious rate, the competition is stiff between the airborne competitors taking part on the ancient sport of pigeon racing.
Back on the ground, the owners of the winged creatures take much pride in the birds, and are not afraid of spending thousands of rupees, on a daily basis, to ensure their competitiveness.
However, unlike other races in which the objective is to cross the finish line first, these pigeons are competing for endurance. The longer a bird keeps in the sky, the better his or her odds are of winning.
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The contesting bird owners gather at each other’s homes before sending the birds off for their flight. The pigeon who returns first is declared the loser, while the winner is the one who stays in the sky the longest. In the past, the humans involved in the sport used to place individual bets on their birds, but now the competition is more of a tournament.
The prominent pigeon flyers announce the tournaments after which competitors submit entry fees, which goes towards the prizes for first, second and third positions. Several breeds of pigeons are gaining popularity these days including those locally known as the teddy, golden, red- eyed, white-eyed, Ferozpuri and Sialkoti, French and white pigeon etc
Mostly, the teddy and Sialkot pigeons are used in the races and the ones likely to have more stamina cost thousands of rupees. Like finely tuned athletes, the birds are fed to perfection. Some of their owners have claimed that the diet of the birds resembles that of a wrestler.
Electuary mixed with almonds, chickpea and cashew nuts are prepared in gold foil as part of their diet. Meanwhile, a musk tablet is fed to the pigeons a night earlier. Musk costs Rs90,000 per 12.5 grams in the market and the daily expense for each pigeon can be upwards of Rs6,000. The enthusiasm for pigeon-racing was considered an unnecessary extravagance in the past, but has more recently become more acceptable on a wider scale in society.
Scores of homes now keep these pigeons as pets. Faisalabad’s biggest tournament was organised a few days ago and pigeons from 218 homes flew at the same time. The owner of the pigeon in first place took home a brand new motorcycle, while the man whose bird came second had a new LCD television to land on his wall at home. The third-placed bird managed to put a bit of extra cash into his owner’s hand.
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Even In the smaller tournaments, at least 20 homes take part. That is not to say that all are in favour of the sport as some see it as an invasion of their private space. More often than not, pigeon flyers get onto the rooftops of local residents, who are not taking part in the competition, to achieve the perfect vantage point.
In a recent development, pigeon flyers hurled stones at the home of a citizen after a complaint was registered in Madanpura. The incident left a woman and three men injured. Similarly, scuffles over pigeon-racing have surfaced in the Ghulam Muhammad area. Gambling is another phenomenon that is prevalent in pigeon-racing and have caught at least 32 men against whom cases have been registered.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2019.
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