Lost rural games of Bengal
Those scenes from Sreeman Prithviraj or lyrical lines of Bibhutibhushan’s Pather Panchali, where Apu teams up with village kids, playing the humble marble or GilliDanda, have always made us nostalgic. It seems like agesago, when school hours dragged on and needles of the grandfather clock at school moved slowly to strike‘four-o-clock.’The gong of the last bell transformed us literally into ‘wild monkeys.’ The boys would shout and girls shrieked in unbridled joy and we rushed to get out of the class rooms. All of us would be in a hurry to reach home and join friends to play together. We all played outdoor games those days unlike the kids of today who are more hooked to their i-pads and mobile phones.
We had plenty of open spacein almost every locality and those who could not play close to their houses, could always go to any nearby park or playground and make friends. If teams could not be formed due to lack of players, boys or girls from neighbouring areas, who watched from the sidelines would be summoned to join the rank. In no time a bonding would form.The playground, parks and even narrow lanes were perfect locations for a game of Kho-Kho. It is still a popular sport in the rural belt but not many city-bred kids know about it. In Kho Kho, one team kneels on the ground in a line, but with alternate persons facing opposite directions. The other team sends in one or more members, who have to avoid being touched by the chaser. He is allowed to dodge by running through the line of squatters, but the chaser can only run in one direction and cannot pass between the squatters. Yes, you are correct, it is like a step sister of Kabbadi.
GilliDanda or GuliDanda was an extremely popular game among boys, and we really had to coax them to include us in the team. It was a very simple game and could be played for hours with two very basic equipments: a long stick, and a short stick with tapered ends. The long stick was used to flick the short gilli into the air, and then hit to travel to a maximum distance. Inexpensive game accompaniments, yet they gave us so much fun!
And remember Pittu? What we all needed was just a small ball and a pile of flat stones, stacked on top of one-another. There would be two teams and any number of players could play. Each member of a team threw the ball at the stack of stones to knock it off and others would try to restore pile of stones with all their might! These days, children are taught how to make human chains. But back then, ‘Chain’ was a very popular game. There would be a denner who would try to catch the other players. Once the denner caught a player, he/she would be part of a chain formed by holding hands. With each free player caught, the chain increased in length and it was great fun as the long chain of players ran from one end to the other, trying to catch the free players along with the denner.
But one game that I still find children playing is Luko-Churi/Chhuppa-Chhupi/Hide-n-Seek and even Four Corners, played on the terrace or on a sprawling verandawhen cousins or family friends dropped in. Or even the Vish-Amrit/ Lock & Key, Statue-statue etc.
Semi-urban and rural games of Bengal were not just fun to play and watch, but also weaved tales. I remember a funny anecdote. Raghu was our neighbour’s kid. His grandmother dropped in at our house now and then to chat with my granny and Raghuinvariably accompanied her. Whenever we played with marbles, he insisted he would play. His grandmother too, demanded that we include him. We did it very reluctantly, because this kid did not know how to play. Later, as we collected his marbles by hitting them, he would throw a fit and howl on top of his voice. His granny would invariably come out of our kitchen, scold all of us for being cruel and depriving her ‘little angel,’ grab not only her grandson’s marbles but many of ours and walk out of the house. And the ‘little Devil’ walked triumphantly behind her. This happened quite often. So, we devised a plan and stopped our game mid-way and dispersed, if any of us spotted Raghu and his grandmother entering our house.
As kids we had our own world, far from the complexities of the adult world of today. It was the world of lattus, kites, dandas and marbles. We played like insane and when we returned home at dusk, each one of us would be dripping in sweat, hungry, but happy. Where is that happiness today?