“As the elders say, if someone is asal (pure), they will remain on the ground no matter what,” says Munna, a 36-year-old cockfighter from Seelampur. “In the same way, the cocks for these fights are aseel (purebred), which means that they may die but will not leave the battle”.
He has been in the business of training cocks and putting them into fights since he was a child. He claims he has predominantly played the sport without the involvement of money since he believes satta (gambling) compromises his principles.
Munna claims that he is the best cockfighter in the area – something which his shagirds (students) affirm. The students put the cocks through rigorous training before the fight, extending to a month of calculated diet and workout.
First, the breed of the bird is decided and its qualities on the field are examined — recording its strengths and fighting style. Then, the cockfighters work on their skills by using traditional tactics and exercise plans.
Although Munna learnt the sport without an ustad (teacher), he emphasizes the importance of one. “There is nothing without an ustad”, he remarks. An ustad, the most experienced and esteemed of all cockfighters in an area, trains his shagirds – the beginners – which may involve years of apprenticeship.
“There are secret formulas that come down to the ustads from the times of kings and kingdoms”, Munna tells. There are several ustads in Delhi, often sharing their traditional knowledge with their most trusted shagirds once they develop trust and confidence in them.
“They are crowned in a ceremony by a pagdi (turban) because the recognition of authority is very important in the game”, he adds. Every student offers a turban to his teacher to make the relationship official in an elaborate gathering.
Codes of conduct
Usually, a number of shagirds create a ‘party’ under an ustad. “Suppose my opponent is from the same party as I am, then I would avoid a fight with him”, he explains. This is done in order to maintain the authority of the party over an area and to strengthen the trust within the community. “One cannot change an ustad, because this suggests that the person is not trustworthy”, Munna says.
The ustad supervises the entire fight with his shagird – explaining every move and weakness of the cock and what remedies and tactics could be used in the next game. “If a shagird wins a paali, it is often remembered by the name of his ustad, earning him respect for his remarkable training and thoughtful direction”, Munna elaborates.
A paali is a local term cockfighters use for a fight, which may be professional or for training purposes. Professionally, a cockfighter plays only one paali with a single cock in a month or two to avoid more harm to the birds.
“The wounds need time to heal. So, we don’t involve the same cock in a fight for a month”, Munna explains. Speaking on the tradition of using blades during the fight, he says that it is not a practice at large in Delhi and nearby areas – but common in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Punjab.
The fights often involve community prestige, strict preparation and sometimes a monetary prize depending upon the deal made between both the parties. Since cockfighting is banned in the country, Munna tells Patriot, they are often held dubka-chori (secretly) to avoid any legal proceedings.
The time allocated for a tussle varies and the rules change. One major aspect of the guidelines is how long the fight lasts and the number of times the fighting cock can drink water during a fight – which in some games is not even once.
Sarfaraz*, another 27-year-old cockfighter from the area, says that there usually are two kinds of fights: band jod and khula jod. A band jod is a battle where the opponents do not know the breed of the fighting cocks, while a khula jod is open, where the information regarding the cocks is communicated before the challenge.
“Suppose if my bird is naati, and the opponent has Madrasi, chances are that the fight will not work because of their size difference. If it does, it’s probably the naati that will win because the Madrasi are very patient with attacks — unlike the rival”, he explains.
The skills of a bird depend on how it is fed and trained. “If the bird is strong with its legs, we will focus more on it. There are different dietary and exercise plans for that”, Sarfaraz says. However, the most important part of the workout is always maalish (massage), Munna emphasises.
The diet predominantly consists of dry fruits, chironji, chana, saunf, paancho magaz, seb ka murabba, butter among others. There are special kinds of khameera (fermented paste) for a variety of diseases.
“There are different diseases such as rani khet ki bimari and kota jaam for which we use a variety of traditional medicines. If we remain careless about it, the bird may die or spread among other animals”, Munna states.
He now calls the game of cockfighting an ‘English game’ because of the usage of English medicines and drugs in recent years. “Now, the game has become a fraud. A lot of people give nasha (drugs) to the creatures so that they can last longer in a fight. Tell me, how is this fair if the bird is weak from the inside? Traditional medicines give them a strong body which should be their reality – their strength”, he says.
Munna adds that the birds used for cockfighting are meant for the sport since their birth. “Even the little chickens start to fight and get aggressive because it is their asliyat (reality). Once we start providing them with a good diet and training, they become the fighters”, he says.
If the birds are deprived of the fight, Munna adds, they become aggressive and violent towards regular human beings. “It is in their psychology and we just feed it”, he remarks.
Speaking on similar lines, Sarfaraz says that although he loves his animals more than anything, fighting is something that cannot be avoided because the birds have such qualities.
Asked if he thinks cockfighting is cruel, he says, “It depends on the situation. If you don’t treat your birds with care, do not feed or train them, and put them in the battle, then it is cruelty. But if you care for them and look after their diet and everything else, then I don’t think there is a problem.”
He adds that cockfighters have an option to not harm the animals beyond a point and this is also the practice he has witnessed at large.
(* Name changed on request)
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Shehwaaz covers community, sexuality, gender, and other social issues for Patriot.