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.
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.
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.
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