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A rewind to the gilli-danda days

Vinita Siddhartha: Bringing alive traditional games for 21st Century children.

Vinita Siddhartha: Bringing alive traditional games for 21st Century children.  

ONCE UPON a time, not too long ago, we had no TV. Instead, we had the great outdoors to play, and when the sun and rain were too harsh, we had indoor games to exercise our minds. These were games that sharpened our analytical as well as aesthetic faculties, improved hand and eye co-ordination, besides learning to be competitive in the best sense.

Today, hardly anyone remembers games like Pallanguzhi, Ashta Chemma, and Aadu Puli Aattam. Instead, the urban middleclass youngster is plugged into video games that are usually violent even as s/he learns to be competitive by hoarding up blonde Barbies and G.I. Joes that cost a bomb. As for our traditional toys, they have been replaced by scary, noisy, electronic specimens that go beep-beep and `talk' in alien (usually Chinese) accents.

This is where 35-year-old Vinita Sidhartha, mother of two, wants to make a difference. A journalist from Chennai, she runs an editorial agency, Masterpage, which supplies contents to various corporate newsletters. In the course of researching for an article for a Citibank newsletter on traditional Indian games, she was fascinated by traditional Indian games. Whatever happened to those games, games our grandparents used to play with us, she wondered. It looked as if they went the way of bioscopes - relegated to a few rural pockets.

A rewind to the gilli-danda days

Vinita then wrote about them in a series of articles for The Hindu's children's supplement, Young World, and was surprised by tremendous response from schools. Among others, her team worked with the M.C.T.M. Chidambaram Chettyar Matriculation Higher Secondary School, and RASA, a school for children with special needs, putting together a learning module based on these games. Vinita then knew what to do. Teaming up with her designer Malavika Mehra, she set about creating "child friendly" and "environment friendly" 21st Century versions of the games, christening her enterprise Kreeda.

Most of the games, in their purest forms, had the game boards drawn on the floor. Kreeda, which means `play', set about creating boards and `coins' using organic material, avoiding plastics as much as possible. All the games are packed in big, brightly coloured cardboard boxes. The smaller pieces are packed in drawstring cloth bags in the traditional turmeric and kumkum colours - sometimes blue - and comprise gundumanis, tamarind seeds, cowrie shells, big glass beads traditionally part of cattle jewellery, and wooden cubes.

"They have access to different types of materials and learn to appreciate the feel of natural things like wood and shells," says Vinita. "We made the cardboard boxes big so that the children need not cram the pieces and boards into smaller boxes. They can put other things also in them.

A rewind to the gilli-danda days

Kreeda has tried to make them as child-friendly as possible. Moreover, it has blunted the puck of gilli danda and has made the nail of the Bambaram (top) rust-free.

All games come with their history and rules. Take for example, Snakes and Ladders, which originated in our country. It used to be played on Vaikunta Ekadasi day to emphasise the role of good and evil in our lives. In Kreeda's version, the ladders are embodied by virtues like compassion, while the snakes are personified by rakshasas like Kumbakarna. The winner is the one that reaches the Parama Pada Sopanam. The rulebook gives a brief history of each villain to familiarise the child with mythology too. "However, we have avoided too much lecturing," says Vinita. "At Kreeda, we want to remember our games. For, they tell us a lot about who we are and where we come from. But, above all, they are a lot of fun."

SUGANDHI RAVINDRANATHAN

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