Thursday, February 12, 2009
Games of life in the time of e....
50 years after I graduated from playing hopscotch, known in my childhood as "tipri", every time I see wonderful Shahbad stone floors, say in older houses, I have to restrain my self from doing the stuff, mostly out of consideration for the hosts floors, but also out of a sense of consideration for folks having to face certain embarrassing visuals.
So it was with a great sense of delight that I learned that a bunch of parents who did surveys at a parenting website, had declared the following to be the Top 10 playground games in the world : Hopscotch, Hide and Seek, Skipping, What's the Time Mr Wolf?, British Bulldog, Conkers, Kiss Chase, Chinese Whispers, Cats cradle, Oranges and Lemons....
Except for the 1st 3, and the last, I cannot recall ever having played the others, partially because (a) I do not and have not stayed in Britain, (b) We have active Moral Police, (c) With all the whispering going on here, why would anyone be interested in Chinese whispers , and (d) I don't play with Wolves and Cats.
There was a huge patio with a swing in our childhood house, and the floor was paved with Shahbad stone. The masons seemed to have been thinking of us when they fixed the stone. Tipri or hopscotch was a favourite with us girls, and we never needed to draw chalk outlines on this stone. We girls would be busy hopping on one leg, sometimes even leaping on one foot over certain squares, taking turns, and it wasn't unknown for our brothers and other similarly motivated folks to sit on that large swing, and casually activate it so that someone at the last square had to counter with the swinging stuff , and would loose her balance, and thus, a turn. For some reason, boys never played tipri.
Hide and Seek , of course , was the game of choice which was played with several variations. the original game had a person who was the "den" who counted up to 100, while all of us went to hide. Smart dens counted in tables of 10. And then searched for the hidden folks, all over the house, including behind people.
A variation of this was a game , which for some reason, was called "Dabba Ice Pice". And it had absolutely nothing to do with the Dabbawalas's who attended Prince Charles's second wedding, Ice, or Pice, the last of which was actually the name of our old currency, before 1957, the value of which was 1/64th of a rupee. The game had the person who was the den doing the usual counting of numbers, but there was a ramshackle tin box placed prominently in the playing area. Every time the den spotted someone, he would shout, "so-and-so, dabba-ice-pice" and the person was declared"out". During this phase if someone (hiding), managed to suddenly appear and kick the tin box from its place, all the caught people were declared free and went to hide again, to the intense trauma of the "den".
Running and catching each other , were again, games played with different variations. I like to think there was one which was unique to our house. There was a huge annular space around our house, and thanks to the tradition of having common medicinal plants growing in the garden area, we had a few lemon grass plants. We used to play a usual game of the "den" running after and catching others. Whoever was caught had to lie down right there, whether it was in a flower bed, dirt, path of approaching guests or just at the garage door etc.
The den continued the catching process of others elsewhere. Those uncaught, would tear some lemongrass and rush with it , and hold it to the caught person's nose, shouting "medicine, medicine", and the earlier caught child would be de-caught and could again run. This game was called "Medicine". We used the love the smell of the lemon grass, and even today , when gardens have lost out in Mumbai, and I still see lemongrass being sold in markets , it takes me back to those "medicine" days.
Several ball games involved running around and hitting a person with a tennis ball to get him out. which was a bit difficult in gardens with sudden constructions at corners, approaching visitors , parked cars and the like, but might explain abilities of certain bowlers in Cricket. Notice that India does well in games where a small size ball has to be thrown by hand. Football, basketball, volleyball, hockey, well, now you know, why we are still trying there.....
While Skipping and oranges and lemons were really considered sissy games, played mostly in the recess at school ( I never saw my brother skipping), there would be certain poems we sang while doing this skipping, vaguely having to do with "two little dicky birds. (Nothing to do with the one Cricket Umpire of the same name.) ". It must be explained here that my experience was with a school where the medium of instruction was English. I probably missed out on even more wonderful games in other language schools.
Sagargote (shown alongside while a child demonstrates to a tourist, on a table), was a game unique amongst girls in my childhood. Turns out that a lot of the government state gazettes of the old days, writing about recreation amidst the population then, mention this game.
These were special rounded seeds/pebbles, usually grey in color. You started by strewing them around as you sat on the floor, one foot outstretched. One pebble/ sagargota was flung up, and you picked up one from the floor before you caught it back. Once you had picked up all, without disturbing any on the floor, you again strew them on the floor, and this time you picked them two at a time, before catching the flung one. If you disturbed any on the floor (not marked for pickup), you missed a chance. Champion sagargota players were capable of picking up widely strewn 6-7 gotas at a time, by throwing the single flung sagargota high enough and then catching it. This game took some learning, but was an amazing recreation on hot summer afternoons in cool balconies and verandahs, when you had had your fill of climbing mango trees, plucking raw mangoes and surreptitiously enjoying them with salt and cayenne pepper.......
There was this great game called Statue. Whenever some person who was the den, said "statue" and gesticulated as if with a gun (for some weird reason), those of us running towards him had to go into a dead stop. Some had perfected the art, of freezing with a grin, an angry face, an arm out to hit someone, and even someone trying to smooth a flying skirt. The den then proceeded to appear in front of each and say things to make us laugh, thereby getting us to move, and be disqualified. Most of the time, the rest of the statues were in splits. Sometimes, someone's desperate parents, would be calling out for some work, and it was a divided loyalty between being a statue and answering parental summons.
At various points in all games, one could hold a fist (fingers outward) against one's lips, lick the back of the hand, loudly, say "Time please", and keep things in "abeyance"; that this was used by tricky players in lots of unscrupulous ways was known, accepted, and sometimes admired.
It is impossible to name all the games we played. These games weren't defined anywhere. They got written about later because they were first played by children who had nothing ready-made. Organized sports was there. In schools and otherwise. But that was a different world.
This was where we could innovate. Change rules. Fight. Take revenge for perceived wrongs. Stand up for our friends. Laugh. Cry. And get back to our houses, faces shining with perspiration, clothes muddy but smelling of lemon grass and mud, to be told to wash and get organized for predinner prayers, and yes, recitation of maths tables. We never questioned that. Maybe we thought of it as a game. Maybe not. But the maths improved.
Today's games have Instruction sheets, Documentations, Help, and are essentially repetitive. They are played on screens by pushing some buttons on a keyboard. Whether its driving a fancy car that can go at 500 mph flouting all known rules, or a soldier who can burst through a cement wall, or a dragon that can eat an army, its all achieved with a movement of an inch or so to the left or right, by your finger, as you sit, muscles tense, neck tense, and eyes glaring at a screen.
Whats worse, these games cost. Money. ( We talk about health some other time ). Shops have sales, and children demand that these be bought. Then someone starts making a noise about "multiplayer" games. A profit crazed company organizes competitions, someone at some university does research to show how some kind of learning is happening, Microsoft makes news when it buys this company, prizes are declared, and an entire generation of children become e-children.
I have a firm belief in the cyclic patterns in life.
We are slowly reaching the excess level as far as e-games are concerned. Hospscotch, hide and seek, statues etc caused no garbage. All these e-games do. Think of millions of children , holding these little screens, and clicking away to irritating sounds, and you'll get mounds of unbiodegradable garbage.
Then global warming hits you. Inconvenient or not.
What surely would be wonderful, is to sit back in the fag evening of ones life, and watch the children in your family once again enjoy the hopsscotch, the skipping, the running, the medicine, and yes, the Dabba Ice Pice......Call out to them at dinnertime, and NOT HAVE THEM EMERGE FROM THE COMPUTER ROOM, BRAINS IN BROWNIAN MOTION...........