There's been horse racing in Chennai for almost 250 years - and the Madras Race Club is the biggest urban course I've ever seen. (Yes, it's the CHENNAI races at the MADRAS Race Club - figure that one out!) It's vast and well appointed - a 1200 metre race seems to cover little more than half the circuit.
It's probably a great place to spend the afternoon - if you don't get hauled into detention after the first race.
So, let's begin at the beginning. Off I went yesterday, excited at the thought of a new adventure. I joined the liveliest queue for admission - to what you might call the cheap seats (OK, there were no seats) which set me back all of 10 Rupees, that's about 12 pence.
Horse racing is a class thing, of course, here as everywhere else. There are various paddocks and stands - and as a casual punter, you can pay as much as 120 Rupees (£1.50) to get admission.
But nothing wrong with the down-market end of the stadium - lots of life, lots of bustle, and lots of aficionados inspecting the form and assessing the race sheet (which at 5 Rupees is almost twice the price of the Times of India - and that's for a single sheet of yellow tissue which looks as if it's been composed on a John Bull printing set).
Once inside, I got out my mobile phone and took lots of shots of pensive punters and frenzied bookies. Everyone's very friendly. Someone has a daughter in Edinburgh ... another offers a few words of advice and explains that while 5 Rupees is the minimum stake on the Tote, 110 Rupees is the lowest wager on the bookies' stalls, of which there are several dozen.
Up to the stands, where - as you can see from the video above - the view of the finishing line is so restricted, you don't really have a clue which horse has won unless you can make sense of the commentary. Most folks stay in the betting sheds and follow the race on the screens. That seems to me to defeat the whole point of a day at the races, but there you go.
Ok, so this is where it gets a little awkward. I keep telling my journalism students, when they head off with cameras to film a TV news piece: don't get injured; don't get arrested! And then ...
Straight after the first race, a uniformed security officer with a splendid moustache - recently retired from the Chennai police I discover ("forty years service, sir!") - accosts me with the the phrase that in India always makes the blood run cold: "Do you have permission sir?"
Permission it turns out is required to film or photograph, or indeed to have in your possession a mobile phone inside the course. I had failed to see the signs (or perhaps in the hoi polloi section they were only in Tamil). With permission, I was assured, all facilities would be provided. Without permission, well, just imagine the fifth circle of Dante's Inferno.
I was asked to hand over my phone. My apprehender couldn't quite understand why a journalism prof would want to take such indifferent photos of the race and racegoers. "There's much better ones on the internet, sir!" Thank you!
But as captors go, he was the epitome of decency. He escorted me to his office, gave me a seat, got me a cup of tea, chatted about his family - daughter a chartered accountant in Chennai, cousin an engineer in New Jersey - and tried hard to find someone, anyone, with sufficient seniority to decide on my fate. But as it was a race day, the big guns were - understandably - a little preoccupied.
After an hour, I was introduced to the Secretary of the Madras Race Club. Just by chance, the emails I had sent asking when the next race meeting would be had reached not a minor functionary but this senior official. "Ah yes", he said as I was brought before him, "we've been in touch".
He declared himself entirely unconcerned about my infraction of racecourse rules, accepted my humble apology and then suggested I watch the next race from the best vantage point around - the top of the five storey central stand.
Up we go, my captor-turned-firm-friend and I ... to find that a communications student (not from the college where I'm teaching, that would be too rich an irony) is up there already and preparing to record the race on video.
"You see", I was told with added emphasis, "with permission everything is possible!"
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