Memories of a Cherished Childhood- The Games We Played

I grew up in South Mumbai (then Bombay), a cosmopolitan and relatively affluent part of the city, in what was then socialist India. However, as children our options were few when it came to playing sports that were resource intensive. While a few of us had access to clubs where one could swim, play a game of squash or tennis, most did not and our joy lay in playing games that involved everyone.  A lack of resources was never an impediment because we were spoiled for choice when it came to playing games that were free.  

My childhood was playful, carefree and joyous to the hilt and I indulged in every sport including cricket, soccer, hockey, volleyball, cycling, skating, fishing and even spinning tops. But the real fun was derived in playing Indian games. By Indian games, I mean indigenous or rustic ones that had their origins in rural India and were not imports like cricket and soccer. We played outdoors, in my building compound, on streets and the neighborhood and were blessed to have had no TV nor gadgets. I still remember the day television was launched in Mumbai, and the unease at the thought of being pulled away from the outdoors.

Recently, when I caught up with a few childhood friends, our conversation centered on the games we played and I promised to write about them. As I write this piece, I feel sorry for Gen Next who have no clue what they missed. Here is my compendium of the games we played:

Seven Tiles or Pittu is a game which consists of two teams, typically between five and seven kids on each. Here, seven stones are neatly stacked on top of each other within a circle. The defending side (seekers) needs to disrupt all seven tiles with a rubber ball such that none remains on top of another. Once done, this side needs to reassemble the tiles in their original form without being disqualified. Disqualification happens when any member from the attacking side (hitters) throws the ball at a seeker and hits her or him to prevent the seekers from reestablishing the pile of stones.  

Children playing seven tiles, Pic credit: Compassion International Blog

Kithi-Kithi Coming consists of two teams of five to six kids. One person from the defending team stands up, arms stretched to a wall while the remaining form a human table top by bending and holding onto the waist of the other. The task before the attacking team members is to jump onto the table top without falling down. The task before the defending team is to withstand the weight of the mounted members without buckling, else it loses. Should all the attackers not be able to mount, the defending side wins. If all the attackers successfully mount, the defending team needs to guess the number on the fingers the last person shows to a referee. Kithi, in Marathi means ‘how many?’ A correct guess reverses roles and incorrect one repeats the sequence.

Kithi Kithi ComingRun time 3 seconds, best viewed on YouTube playback speed setting of 0.25

Kings is a version of dodgeball, but played with a tennis ball, and has a den who is required to hit someone on any part of the body. The dodger can use only his fist to sway the ball and can run to dodge but within a predefined confined area. The person who gets out becomes the next den.

Gilli Danda This game consists of a gilli (a bail pointed at both ends) and a danda (a stick). Gilli is the smaller of the two typically three inches while the danda is about a foot long. The objective here is to raise the gilli with the stick and strike it with the danda as far as possible. The person who hits the gilli the farthest is the winner.

Marbles & Koyba There are several versions, one of which is ‘triangles’. Here a triangle is drawn in an unpaved or muddy space and each player puts a marble in with the objective of striking them out of the triangle. To determine the order in which one strikes, a line is drawn several feet away and each player is given a chance to shoot as close to the line. The order is decided based on who shoots closest to this line. The player who manages to strike the marble(s) in the triangle with a striker marble gets to keep the marble(s). I remember a friend who had developed a dazzling collection based on his winnings. While most people would be familiar with marbles, few would remember koyba where the marble used is typically larger, sans design and opaque. Here, a square is drawn and make a gull (a small pit) in the centre. From some distance, the players roll a marble or two trying to net it into the gull. The loser compensates the winner with a predetermined number of smaller glass marbles.

French Cricket although not indigenous in origin, India is the game’s adopted home. It is a highly modified and rapid version of cricket in which there is just one batsperson (striker) and the rest are bowlers and fielders. The striker is stationary with feet together and cannot move, and protects him or herself 360 degrees and uses his or her legs as stumps while the bowler balls underarm to the striker. If the striker hits the ball with the bat then he/she can make runs by making one revolution of the bat around his or her legs. If the striker hits the ball and it is caught by a fielder without any bounce or if the striker fails to make contact with the bat and the ball hits his or her legs then the striker is declared out. The beauty of this game is that it can be played in restricted spaces regardless of the configuration.

The Game of French Cricket: Run Time 1 min 12 Seconds

This blog doesn’t have enough room to list all the games we played. Some like Kho Kho and Kabaddi or hu tu tu have evolved to become federation and league sports. Others like hopscotch have been converted into a mat game which can be procured online. And yet others like langadi, chor police (robbers & cops), catching cook and runaway (similar to catching cook but with extended boundaries) remain a distant memory.   

There was hardly a game that I did not play in my childhood. And I can’t say I was good at every game. You win some and you lose some and that is how life really is. But even when we lost, the games we played were exhilarating and fun-filled. Contrast this with the games played by politicians, in boardrooms and even the Olympics. Simple things in life unfortunately tend to get dismissed easily when in reality you don’t need affluence nor power to manifest exuberance but just improvisation and inclusiveness fueled by a little imagination.  

Feature image: Illustration of Gilli Danda, Pic Credit Arving Neghi

Shakti Saran is an Inclusive World Citizen, Writer and Senior Fellow at PYXERA Global. All views expressed are his own

12 comments

  1. Very well written Shakti. Truly brought back memories of times gone by. Had even forgotten some of the games till I read your blog. Those were truly fun times which I doubt today’s generation will ever experience. Great job, Shaks. Keep them
    comingg.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Hormazd. Those memories are precious including those of our cricket teams ‘Tarzan’ & ‘Phantom’ which you and your brother Homavand respectively captained. And I won’t forget our indigenous scoreboard and the shield which we awarded to the winning team!

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  2. Nostalgic memories of all these games we played.Some girlie songs we sang and games like froggy froggy can i cross your golden river – We are going to the mkt we are going to the fair……
    What fun were those days 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Shakti well remembered , brought back memories when we returned home all dirty and had to be in the bathroom with a mouth from my mother. We enjoyed and the Gen Next enjoys their games. This is development , this is moving forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Vandana, am glad you enjoyed this post. I agree with you, while I did feel sorry for Gen Next when I was writing this piece, I also acknowledge that they have it very good in different ways. I guess it is a matter of what worked well in which era

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  4. Shakti, a lovely walk down the bylanes, maidans, parks and compounds where we played these games. To answer your question, my pals and I played all the games you write about. Apart from being hugely enjoyable (can’t imagine how computer games compare for today’s kids) these games were invaluable in teaching us how to understand others, how to work in teams, and learn from the ‘star’ players amongst us who we looked upto!

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  5. Thank you Shakti
    I remember all so well all the aforementioned games we all played. Building cricket at the rear of now Rakhi Mahal (when I was young it was Kaka Court & USHA KIRAN) was of prime importance to us. It was surprising that residents did not object to the shouting & screaming they must have been subjected to, so I’m very grateful to them.

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    1. Thank you Jal. Yes, we played these games with such gusto 🙂 and it’s amazing that residents put up with our shrieking! I guess we owe it to the Kumars’ and Maheshawaris’ who were subjected to this most. The one vivid memory I have is of our athletic championship in which you & others drew tracks in the building compound with chalk.

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  6. Shakti that brought back such memories. Have played all these except ‘ Kithi’.
    Kings,Kho Kho ,chor police,Kabaddi,french cricket,langdi.
    There was one more called Sakhli where we kept adding people that were tapped .

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