'The games we played', by R.V. Rajan

R.V. Rajan is my senior by several years, but more than for his age, it for his leadership skills, simplicity, ability to don various hats, positive attitude and enterprise that I respect him. Of course, we’ve had quite a long association, the bonds growing stronger while we worked together at WAN-IFRA (World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers), with him as MD, being my boss in a sense although I was consultant. And then we also got to work together on a magazine produced by the Rural Marketing Association of India.

Other than being chairman of Anugrah Madison, Rajan today leads a fairly retired life, officially, that is. But in ‘retirement’, he has found many avenues to keep himself busy and to be productive. He is now a sought-after speaker in lecture circles, especially if it has to do with rural marketing, an area he is an acknowledged guru. After authoring a highly readable book, Rajan is now seriously pursuing writing, and his articles appear frequently in newspapers magazines, with a piece on his visit to the 106 divya desams in The Hindu being one of the last I had read. All the pieces, I’m sure, will find place in another book some day soon.

Today morning, I was surprised to see his mail, with an interesting title: Games we played. Here it is, reproduced with his permission, and like most of his pieces written in freewheeling style, I’m sure you’ll read till the end. I particularly enjoyed the part about gilly-danda. Here goes:

The other day my six year old grandson was looking grumpy and irritable. When I asked him what his problem was; he said, “I am bored! Nobody is playing with me.” Even a three-year-old child today talks of getting bored.

My mind raced back to the time when I was a kid, growing up in a Mumbai chawl with scores of kids of all age groups for company, I never knew the meaning of the word ‘boring’. The moment I returned from school, I would dump my school bag in the house and run out to play with other boys of my age group in the compound area of the building complex where my family was staying.

Even in those days cricket was the most popular game – the underhand variety, with tennis balls and stumps drawn on the walls of the building. It was not uncommon for the aggressive batsman in the group breaking the glass panes on the windows of the flats nearby trying to hit a six. As we grew older and started playing with the ‘seasoned’ ball (as the red cricket ball was called), the group had to move to the nearby Matunga Gymkhana Ground opposite R A Podar College of Commerce where I studied. I remember when I acquired a proper cricket bat and ball; I became a hero among the group. I was always included in our team, playing matches against other teams.

Playing marbles or gilly-danda or top (pambaram as it is called in Tamil) were other games popular among the boys. For playing marbles, one had to invest a small amount to buy a set of multicolor marbles, contributing to a pool of marbles, and then challenge others for a game. The game involved throwing the collection of marbles a little away from where you stood, and the boys would take turns to hit one specific marble in the spread out. Whoever got the aim right was entitled to keep the entire lot of marbles on the floor. Boys with perfect aim would have multiplied their collection of marbles by the end of the game…several times.

Gilly-danda involved hitting a small rounded wooden piece (gilly) with sloping edges on either side with a longer stick (danda). The knack was to hit the end of the gilly first to make it rise from the ground and then hit it hard with the danda to send it flying as far as one could. The experts among the boys would keep hitting the small piece again and again moving forward around the compound of the building with the others running behind them. Those boys who were not able to lift the gilly from the ground or could not connect it with the danda after it rose from the ground were declared out from the game.

Playing the top required special skills. You tied a strong string around the ridges of the conically shaped top with a bulging head, at the bottom of which there was a pin on which the Top could be spun. Keeping the end of the string between your thumb and forefinger, you would fling the top, which then landed on the ground, spinning beautifully for some time. It is also an art to pick up a spinning top from the ground on to your palm without breaking its momentum. Some boys were also experts in the art of flinging the top with a reverse swing, managing to get the spinning top directly on to their palms without hitting the ground. I must confess that I was not good at it and envied the boys who could perform this trick.

And there were games like kho-kho, based on the popular musical chair concept, featuring boys and girls instead of the chairs or Hu-Thu-Thu (kabaddi... kabaddi in Tamil). I also remember playing the “leap frog game” in which one of the boys would stand at the centre, bending at his waist while the others would run fast to jump over the boy using both their hands, placed on the back of the boy as a lever, to propel themselves forward. Once a boy suddenly decided to stand up while I was about to jump over him, sending me for a toss, resulting in a deep cut on my forehead. Even today, I carry the scar left behind due the stitches required to help me recover from the injury.

Hiring a bicycle by the hour and going around the buildings was another activity which the boys and girls indulged in. A serious accident involving the cycle that I had hired put an end to this activity as my mother refused to give any money for this purpose again.

Flying kites during certain seasons was an exciting activity in which even the adults in the building complex participated, at times.

If it was raining or for any reason we could not undertake outdoor activities then there were always games like carom, chess, cards and board games that would keep us busy. Even Pallankuzhi a traditional indoor activity using a wooden board with 14 hollow portions and a collection of sea shells or Dhaya Kattam (modern day Ludo), were popular with both boys and girls.

The variety and choice of games that we could play then were mind-boggling, and we had the freedom to do what we liked, as long as we did not get into trouble which necessitated the interference of our parents.

I pity the modern day kids, many of them growing up in apartment complexes without adequate space for outdoor games. Even if there are playing grounds in the locality, the paranoid parents do not allow them to go and play because of security concerns. The parents who can afford o fcourse send their children to special coaching classes for cricket, basketball or football etc. paying a hefty fee. Even these are aborted because of the priority given to attending the mandatory special classes on different subjects, considered necessary if the boys/girls have to perform well in their classes! The end result is that the boys and girls are always glued to a variety of gizmos and electronic media, entertaining themselves with games and cartoons at home. Missing the fun of outdoor activities, so necessary for the development of the body and mind of kids. And also for lessons in relationship management.

The only solution to this problem is for schools to have a compulsory games period for all classes at the end of every day before the children leave the school for their homes. If the school has space constraints then such periods could be rotated between different classes on different days.

If the situation is allowed to be continued, I am afraid the modern day kids will turn out to be intelligent zombies unable to face the real world. Young parents and concerned grand parents, it’s worth thinking about it.


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