Simple joys of life


Recently I bought some marbles for my son at a village near Kota, Rajasthan. He held them in the oyster-like clamp of his palms, shook and spilt them on the floor. Then he hunted each out, tallied his stock, and repeated the sequence. Soon he was tired of his game. He gathered and dumped the lot in his bucket and forgot about it. The set of small GI Joes, which elicited loud battle cries and motivated him to generate the staccato of machine gun fire in his imaginary war game, deserved more attention than the marbles.

Not long after, I found the lot in an envelope. I was reminded of the past and placed a few marbles on the floor, placed one on my middle finger as a sling and aimed - just as I did some 35 years ago. I had one keen spectator watching every move to understand what I was up to. I missed the first few times but then I managed to hit some. The nimble touch, with which I could spin and could guarantee that my shot would hit other marbles around, had vanished.

Marbles were cheap those days. Three paise (the one-paise copper coin and the bi-metallic coins existed then before vanishing out of circulation) could buy 10 marbles in an emergency. That was enough to win hundreds more. And I had a wooden box full of marbles of all sizes. Such was the addiction among some of my friends that a challenge was never turned down and we played for hours after school till our Principal drove us out around 5 p.m.

We improvised tough games. One was a square (the smaller, the greater the challenge) on which we placed a marble at each corner, on the mid-point of each side and at the centre of the square. You could hit anywhere on the grid and pocket your target provided you knocked it out of the grid without touching any other. If your missile or the target remained within the square, you would have to replace your target and pay a fine of two marbles which were placed on the square. If you could knock the central marble out of the grid without touching any other, you pocketed all nine at a go.

We played intensely without fighting. As skill alone mattered, unlike the magician who can deal four aces in a row from a pack of shuffled cards or a player who handles engineered dice, there was no scope for confusion or contention.

We also played other games. "Chor-police" was one where some of us as thieves would hide from the law and others would have to hunt for and catch us. The art of interrogation that leads to custodial deaths today was irrelevant. The chase sent us up trees, scooting along high walls and at times jumping across parapets. Fortunately none suffered from acrophobia. And we played far from our residences which saved our parents the pain of shrieking - in anger and in fright.

There was also the "seven tiles" where we set up a pile of seven broken tile pieces of roughly the same size. One of the two teams would smash the set with a ball (usually a much-used tennis ball) within three throws. The team would then get the seven tiles up again before any of the other team got the ball and hit any member of the cracking group or smashed the partially erected pile. The speed at which the attack was organised and the pile of seven tiles raised from rubble amazes me today. The ball was thrown with the maximum force one could muster, and when it hit, it hurt. By the end of the day (I mean early evening) when we reached home, we were tired. After a quick shower, we would retire to our study to handle the school workload or prepare for the next morning's test.

Take your case, especially those of you who get whatever you want. Today, not many of you play games which burn calories, stretch your muscles and tendons. Many of you are happy with your GI Joes, Barbie dolls, Hornby train sets or the Cartoon network. Not much of physical activity.

We did not need any summer camps those days. If we needed to swim, there was the Rabindra Sarovar lake (which was not used for effluent discharge as lakes are in and around Chennai) and the Hooghly river which cuts through Kolkata. We cycled some 5-15 km to reach the lake or the river. If we wanted to walk, we had the whole of Kolkata at our disposal. And if we needed to run, there was always a park not far away.

We discovered games those days. Today you are better informed than we were at your age. So you too should be able to devise your own games that will require you to run around and burn the calories that you must. I agree that parks are rare today and lakes are rarer. But who stops you from using your imagination to design a game? And you can always find some space, even today, to run around with your friends. It is risky to play on busy roads. Why not use your terrace or walk to a near-by park?

It will be a lot more fun than reaching out for ready-made toys, the Cartoon network, computer games or the Internet.