In my first school, I had three good friends — Sahana, Karan and Anagha. I don’t know how we got along so well, considering we had vastly differing opinions on most subjects. But the fact remains that we did. This is the story of how we first played the perennial favourite game that goes by many names. We simply called it ‘Mummy-Daddy’.

It was a quiet morning in school and during the short break for snacks, Sahana turned to us.

“I want to play Mummy-Daddy,” she said.

“No, let’s play Train-Train,” said Karan.

“What’s Mummy-Daddy?” Anagha asked.

“I’m the Mummy and Karan is the Daddy,” Sahana explained bossily, “Anagha is the sister and Aranya is the baby.”

“You’re not my mummy,” Anagha objected.

“Can I drive a train?” Karan asked.

“I’m just a pretend-Mummy,” Sahana explained. “And Karan, you have to go to office. Go now, the office is the sandpit.”

“What do I have to do?” I asked, nibbling on half a biscuit.

“You have to cry,” Sahana said. “And Anagha has to go to school.”

I began to perform my duty. It was fun for the first few minutes, until a teacher rushed into the room.

“Who’s making that noise?” she asked and I stopped.

“You can cry softly,” Sahana whispered to me after the teacher had left. “But now I have to feed you Cerelac.” She fed me “Cerelac”, which was half an orange. The orange had disappeared by the time Karan wandered back to us.

“Office is over,” he declared. “No more office!” he emphasised his point. “But if you want, I can be a plane-driver.”

“You mean a pilot?” I asked.

“Hush! Babies can’t talk!” snapped Sahana. “Okay, you can be a pilot. But first go and bring Anagha home from school. I’ll cook dinner.” But before we realised that Anagha had forgotten her pretend-Family to go dig in the school yard, it was time to get back to class.

That evening, as usual, we met in the street between our houses.

“Let’s play Mummy-Daddy again,” said Sahana enthusiastically.

“I don’t want to be the baby this time,” I put in quickly.

“No, let’s play Train-Train,” insisted Karan.

“I want to go to Sumita Aunty’s house,” said Anagha.

Sahana sighed and thought for a while as we made a couple of mud-pies on the pavement.

“Okay, we’ll go to Sumita Aunty’s house in a train,” she said finally, “But I’m the Mummy and Karan is the Daddy—”

“Why?” asked Karan interrupted her.

“Because you’re a boy. Anagha is the baby and Aranya is the grandmother.”

“I can cry!” Anagha said cheerfully.

“What does a grandmother do?” I enquired.

“A grandmother sleeps...” said Sahana, doubtfully. There was a pause.

“My Naani tells stories and cooks,” said Karan.

So after understanding our roles, we proceeded to jog down the pavement in a single file, while Karan, at the front, made loud noises like a train. At the end of the street was Sumita Aunty’s house, where the old lady lived alone. We visited her often because she didn’t mockingly laugh at our games and baked cakes. She also told good stories, although we wouldn’t hear any until later.

We trotted down her garden path and up to her front door, where Karan let out a piercing hoot. Sumita Aunty emerged beaming from her kitchen.

“Come, come, children,” she said happily.

“I’m the Mummy and Karan is the Daddy. Anagha is the baby and Aranya is the Granny,” explained Sahana.

“Oh, do come in,” Sumita Aunty said. We took off our muddy shoes and traipsed into her living room.

“So, you’re playing House-House,” said Sumita Aunty as we all settled in.

“No, it’s Mummy-Daddy,” Sahana corrected her.

“Ah, I see… Have you ever played Ship-Ship?” she asked.

Interest registered on Karan’s face. “Can I be the captain?” he asked excitedly.

Sahana looked a little miffed. “We’re playing Mummy-Daddy!” she said indignantly. There was a tense silence.

“A ship needs a cook, you know,” pointed out Sumita Aunty, “and a couple of sailors to explore the discovered islands.”

“Will I have to cook fish?” asked Sahana.

“Usually they do, I believe,” said Sumita Aunty.

“Ewww…” squealed Sahana, “Fine, I’ll do it!”

And thus began our next adventure, in the pretend-Ship named ‘The Saak’, which Sahana said was the first letters of our names spelled together.

But that’s the ‘Odd Ship’, a story for a different day.

Aranya Koshy, XII, Rishi Valley School, Chittoor