I come from a generation brought up in an environment where competitive academic stresses were nonexistent. We went to school, where our teachers not only completed the day’s curriculum, but effectively developed our character, formatting us into becoming useful citizens. We got little or no home work (which speaks volumes for the dedication of our teaching staff) and our days were spent in a healthy mix of reading, eating, napping and play. The last mentioned activity consisted of games, which are now almost extinct. In hindsight, I am convinced that the origin of these games had a far deeper purpose than just child play. I believe that this activity was designed to enhance physical toughness, agility, eye and hand coordination, quick thinking and above all self-preservation – all essential attributes to survive in the days of the sword and the bow.Take for example ‘Pithoo Garam’.

A player would endeavor to hit a stack of terracotta shards called the ‘pithoo’ with a well-aimed rubber ball. As the stack scattered, the player became a fair and moving target for the others using the same ball, till such time that he or she managed to victoriously stack the pieces once again without being struck by the ball. In case of a hit, the player was deemed to have lost. Perhaps in some previous time before the invention of a rubber ball, children used a ball made out of cloth strips or straw – who knows.Then there was the infamous ‘Gulli Danda’.

Infamous as it had the potential to cause a painful bruise if struck on the face, the shin or the ankle. The ‘Gulli’ was a tapered wooden object about three or four inches long, while the ‘Danda’ was exactly as its name implied, a thick two feet long stick. The game began with a ‘Raa’ or ‘Raab’, with the Gulli placed across a shallow indentation scraped out of the ground called a ‘Khutti’. It was then tossed as far as possible using the ‘Danda’ as a lever. If it was caught by the other players, the ‘tosser’ was out, but if not, then it had to be retrieved by other players and aimed at the ‘Danda’, which was placed on the ‘Khutti’. If the aim was true then again it was an ‘out’ and if it missed, then it was time for a ‘Tulla’ wherein the ‘Gulli’ was struck vertically on one tapered end with the ‘Danda’, making it spin off the ground and then side swiped in the air in a baseball like action. Success in accomplishing this, depended on excellent eye and hand coordination.Our most popular activity however, was ‘Chuppan Chupai’.

We played this game in two teams, which included my parents, aunts, uncles, an army of cousins and the offspring of our domestics. With my maternal grandfather and sometimes my paternal grandmother acting as referees, one team would run a full circle around the house, which gave ample time for the other team to conceal themselves. While trees were a sought after place to hide, some of us (my eldest male sibling in particular) chose the most bizarre of places. Take for example the time when the gentleman (then a teenager), thrust me into the ‘khurli’ or the trough, where we served our pair of milk cows their fodder. I burrowed under the pile of chopped maize, while the two bovines continued to feed, sometimes pushing me aside with their snouts and covering me with saliva.

When I was finally discovered, marked head to foot in splotches of green and ‘smelling of cow’, I was given a sharp dressing down by my mother followed by a good scrubbing in the bathtub. Once again, when viewed in perspective, this activity bred stamina, agility, an eye for concealing oneself and ingenuity.It has taken some effort, but I have kept the inventory of traditional fun alive in my family. I thank my Creator for rewarding me with the sound of unbridled laughter and the sight of my grandchildren (and even their parents) indulging in these games with an eagerness that gives me satisfaction beyond measure. It is in this setting that visitors to my humble abode are often startled to see a merry group of old and young, madly clambering up trees or trying to conceal themselves in most unlikely places. To me however, they are only having fun through the age old activity called ‘Chuppan Chupai’.