Saturday, December 16, 2017

Games People Played

I am 52 years old. And I am from India.

Both these information are relevant to this blog.

My generation has probably witnessed the greatest transformation in how we as individuals and a family, spent our leisure time.

Today, on those rare weekends when the family is together, the following are how we are engaged.

I explore the possibility of going to some mountains or for a bike ride with my friend.

On the rarest of the rare occasions, the family goes to the mountains together.

If it is biking, I am on my own.

Usually however,

My wife spends her time in the kitchen, or the garden or connecting up with friends through whatsapp and facebook. 

My son, would use the excuse of holidays to sleep when the others are awake
and stay up all night while we sleep.

My daughter would be tuned into her laptop, watching some unwatchable shows and listening to elevator music.

Me, I will be moving about, getting on everyone’s nerves with my misplaced wisecracks, and end up reading or watching comedy clips on YouTube.

When the family ends up something together, it is one of the following three.

Watch a movie.

Go on a holiday – visit new places.

Play Scrabble.

When I was young, the choices of what to do in our leisure time were multitude. 
Surprisingly, even the leisure time was plenty. 

The distractions were less.

We had no TV, no internet, no malls, no multiplexes.

The TV entered the homes in the early 80s and stole the leisure time.

It reduced the conversations at home. 

The only time the members of the family spoke to each other was when they had to fight for changing the channels.

In the beginning, even this was not happening, as there were no channels to change and most TVs did not come with a remote.

Subsequent home invasions like internet, connection of internet at home, first through dial in connection, then with modem and finally with wifi, smartphones and cable TVs totally obliterated any family time possible.

Nostalgia is addictive, as strong as opium, and I take a trip down the memory lane.

When I was young (remember I am 52 today)

Every day, after the school, we played.

When I say, we played, I mean we the kids, went to the playground and played physical games.

Cuts, bruises, dirt, dust, torn garments, broken nails and damaged equipment were the norms.

The games that we used to play are all now part of folklore.

No one, at least not in urbanized areas, plays them anymore.

A top, marbles, balls thrown at each other, hop on elaborate patterns as complex as crop circles.

I shall not spend time on elaborating them as they were all games the kids played.

My starting point was how the family spent its leisure time.

The first that comes to my mind is a game called “Thaayakattam”

My grandmother was the champion in this game. This game could accommodate 4. So someone usually waited for their turn when one game ended. My grandmother was a constant participant. The game was almost like chess, with some chance thrown in, but once the chance part was done, it was left to the player to marshal his/her resources with cunning, strategy and deception. My grandmother was a serious player. Gone were her gentle demeanour and kind words once the play started. 

She would shout, holler, hurl expletives, plead with Gods, curse her own grandchildren with fate worse than death, accuse others of cheating, play the poor me card to perfection and in extreme situations (read as close to losing) end the whole game with her matriarchal authority and sulk for a period of a full three minutes after which a fresh game would start again.

At times, the games stretched endlessly and theoretically it is possible for the game to continue till eternity.

Shakuni  from the epic Mahabaratha was an accomplished player of this game.

In the early days, we drew the pattern on the floor with chalk, and later laminated patterns or some exotic cloth versions were also available. But nothing could equal the patterns drawn on the floor.

The second was the family favourite “ Paramapadam (literally God’s feet) aka Snake and ladders”

Unlike the previous one, this did not have any limit on players. You could play with as many as you wanted. It just needed a distinct piece that you could associate with the players. Coloured stones, chessmen, carrom coins, cowry shells , seeds…. 

This was actually a two-in-one. It was not just a game, but also a Moral Instruction class delivered at home while you play. 

The ladders that helped you climb were all virtues, like honesty, faithful, pious, generous etc. The greater the virtue, more rungs to the ladder. Honesty may help you ascend two rows while pious took you seven rows above. 

And the snakes were the sins. Jealous, greed, envy, anger, etc. The same logic again, greater the sin bigger the fall. I do not remember the exact name of the snake, or its associated sin, but this blasted snake rested on square close to 100 on a game with the final square at  132. And this brought you all the way down to square 2. 

Must be a real mean snake or a damned sin certainly. 

With its tone of piety thrown in, each square was attributed to some God form or other, the cursing of my grandmother was restrained while her pleading to Gods were exponential.

The third was a game called “Pallanguzhi”

I do not even know what to call the main part of this game. 

It was not a board, nor was it drawn on the ground. It was a compact foldable wooden plank, often shaped like a fish, and it had 14 cup like indentations, arranged 7 to a side. 

This game was also quite a complicated one. I am not sure if I remember all the rules. It was played with cowry shells or tamarind seeds if the family was less affluent. The person who started first had an advantage. There were some patterns that could be repeated to give you a winning start.

The last of the family game I recall is the one that involved cowry shells. This needed dexterity, as you did some "Matrix" like manipulations with your hands and fingers.

There was yet another game called Trade. A diluted version of monopoly. The grandmother never participated in this. We bought cities, built homes, collected rents, in short we were transformed to the heartless capitalists for the duration of the game, sucking blood out of proletariat like a leech. My father was usually the banker. Years later we learnt that he was giving money to one of my brothers on the sly. No wonder he won most of the times.

Years later when I moved to Bombay, I knew all the parts as I had bought them, built homes and collected rents when I was a kid. Thus Dadar was always cheap compared to Zaveri Bazaar, though by the time I moved in, both were out of reach, to even live in.

The death of my grandmother happened before the TV invasion and sadly most of these games died with my grandmother.

With my grandmother gone, and an ever absent father, constantly on travels and a mother who was happy to cook or sleep given a choice, the three brothers still managed to keep a tradition of games at home, played together.

Chess, Carrom and playing cards.

These games are playable today too, but the drama and fun part of the above mentioned games are gone forever.

In 2004 or about, I bought these games from a fancy shop in Madras, selling “traditional Indian games” at an obscene price, thinking I will reignite the magic of those golden years.

The wish remains a dream till date.

Readers of the blog, closer to my age, please mention some of the games that you played in your childhood, if you feel like, that is lost today. Let me compile these games. If for nothing, at least for records.


  1. Vitti dandu,kabadi,khokho

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  3. Outdoor games such as Kho-Kho, hitting a pile of seven stones with ball, marbles, Gilly-Danda. Indoor games of trade, innocent card games.