Her love for board games started in the 1990s, growing up in Germany. “My family would sit together and play Scotland Yard, Scrabble and Monopoly for hours. It was fun and a lot of learning too,” recalls Kanaka Ananth, director of Maniams Design Studio in Coimbatore.
She has launched a set a four indigenous games — Krazy kolam, Rangolio, Trikona and Paheli— at the India Toy Fair 2021, a virtual fair on Indian toys.
“Abroad, especially the US, the concept of gaming night is big. While playing the games, one also learns strategy, probability, negotiation, how to interact and so on. The HR department of some corporates use it as a tool to gauge a candidate’s ability to work in a team,” she explains.
Kanaka who is an architect was among the first batch of six students for the toy design course at the National Institute of Design. Later, she worked for Funskool as well as Creative Education Aids in Delhi and developed games on spellings, Maths Wiz and Amazing Me, the last a game that encourages interaction between parents and children. She also taught Industrial Design and Product Design at NID and at the DJ Academy of Design in Coimbatore.
Designing toys for children is her toughest job yet, she declares. “It has to be a fun-way of learning that also instils values in a child, besides honing skills like concentration and logical thinking.”
Her Krazy kolam, a design patented product, has puzzles drawn from kolam, for the age group of six plus. “I researched designs from my mother-in-law’s kolam book to arrive at motifs and over 30 patterns ranging from simple to difficult levels. While joining the wooden pieces (made from beech wood and rosewood to differentiate colours) to form patterns, children develop a sense of precision and their visual and spatial development improves.”
Designed in line with Waldorf & Montessori education methodologies, children with special needs like the ones in the ADHD spectrum also benefit, as it works on motor skills, dexterity and eye-hand coordination. “Parents and teachers who work with autistic children have bought it. Some children have come up with innovative ideas. They fill colours using the motifs and make designs on paper.”
Kanaka says she paid attention to sustainable designs that are child-friendly.
The toys are packed in handmade bamboo baskets, made by artisans in Assam. “I tapped into the unique skill sets of artisans and looked inwards at our culture for design inspiration.” She roped in artisans from Karnataka for their lathe and lac work and Assam/Tripura for their bamboo weaving techniques, and Uttar Pradesh for their work on hard wood to make motifs. The Channapatna toy makers make the pawns for board games.
While the Rangolio puzzles have over 500 patterns inspired from rangoli designs, Trikona is based on traditional jali work. “It has shapes designed such that one can create endless number of patterns. It’s a dexterity game involving stacking, collecting the right shapes and completing the patterns before the structure collapses.”
Maniams’ toys short listed for the finals of All India Toycathon also include Paheli, a family game that can be played with two to four players. “India’s culture is among the world’s oldest dating back to 4,500 years. This game helps one understand symbols such as, why we wear a bindi? why we worship tulasi? why do women wear bangles? Why do we break a coconut? Why do we place betel leaves in festivals? This game helps families understand symbols in a fun manner.”
The game board is divided into pathways and the theme is based on the Ramayana. “Sita has been kidnapped by Ravana. Your task is to find and rescue her. But in order to do that you must first find Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman before Ravana reveals his 10 heads. To find all these characters players need to answer as many as 300 riddles related to festivals, symbols,the gods and along the way learn about modesty, values, friendship and moral values on how truth alone triumphs,” says Kanaka.
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