Mention the word ‘game’ to kids today and most likely they’ll think you’re talking about Angry Birds, Temple Run or Call of Duty. But let’s hark back to a time when friends weren’t just random people on Facebook, and the only social network a child needed was ‘outside’.
It was a time when the Playstation, Xbox and even personal computers were like something out of a sci-fi movie. Just a generation ago, games were simpler and much more physical.
Their simplicity was an equaliser. It ensured that both rich and poor played the same games, sometimes in the same streets. Your parents’ wealth did not determine your gaming system and thus your playmates. These street games, after all, usually focused on running, dodging, teamwork and being smart generally. They were inexpensive and lots of fun.
Unfortunately today, a child — especially one coming from the middleclass and above — is almost unaware of the traditional games being played by his or her parents and grandparents. Other than team sports such as cricket or football; they are highly likely to be familiar with Fruit Ninja or Assassin’s Creed but not with what pittu garam or kho-kho was all about. So here is an effort to keep that flame alive.
Pittu garam, a very popular traditional game, is not very common these days especially in urban areas. However, just a decade or so back pittu would be one of the first games that youngsters would be seen playing, even on the roads.
A predefined playing area is occupied by two teams of equal numbers of players. A circle is drawn in the centre in which a stone tower is crafted with seven flat stones or geetian, as they are called, placed on top of each other. These stones, in urban areas, are replaced with distinct red-coloured broken off pieces from the clay pots for plants.
The players are divided into two teams; throwing and catching. The teams stand on their marks opposite to each other and at a distance of around six to 10 feet on either side. Each player from the throwing team makes three attempts from the same mark to throw a tennis ball directly within the circle in order to dislodge the stone tower. If any of the players is able to do so then the throwing team has to rebuild the tower without getting hit by the catching team. Each time the tower is rebuilt, each member of the throwing team gets an additional attempt. The catching team’s goal is to stop the tower from being rebuilt. They have to hit any player from the throwing team with the ball before they can rebuild the tower, but they cannot move from their position once the ball is in their hand. There are some unique rules for different situations in the game. Like any other game, pittu also has its variants. The rules of the game may be molded to the liking and limitations of the players.
Another inexpensive yet absorbing game, kho-kho, is played between two teams of 12 players each. Nine from the chasing team take the field standing or kneeling three feet apart, forming an alternating pattern facing opposite directions. Three members of the defending team then enter the field. The goal for them is to spend an already decided time span without getting caught or touched by the active member from the chasing team. The chasing team’s member is active when he is touched by his team mate on the back with a shout “kho” and taking his place. The active player can only run in one direction and can not run across the central line to get on the other side. However, the defenders can go through any space if they are within the playing area. Reasonable smart dodging and controlled speed burst are the highlight of this tag team game. The team that is quicker in tagging all the players from the opposing team wins the game.
Popular local tag games include catch-me-if-you-can or pakram pakrai, baraf paani and ek ko pakra do chor. These are variations of almost the same game played with different rules. The games are based on one’s running and dodging skills and revolve around touching (tagging) the players. The games are virtually free and there is no requirement of any sporting apparatus or any protective gear.
In catch-me-if-you-can or pakram pakrai, all the players (thieves) run away within a playing area and the catcher is supposed to catch any one of them. Once he does so, the catcher now turns into a normal player (a thief) and runs himself, while the player that was caught turns into the catcher for the next game. In ek ko pakra do chor, all the thieves caught by the catcher become the part of the catcher’s team and will help him to corner and catch more thieves.
In baraf paani, another local favourite, the catcher touches the running players and shouts “baraf”. The caught player freezes in that position, and the catcher moves onto the next victim. The only hitch from the catcher’s perspective is that the active players can unfreeze or thaw the frozen player by touching him or her and shouting “paani” after which the frozen player is again active and starts running away from the catcher.
Oonch neech, is another tag game in which the players try to avoid getting tagged by the catcher. For this the players need to be standing on something above ground level; since the catcher can only catch them when they are on the ground level. Sometimes rules are modified so that no player can stay in the same safe area for longer than a specific time.
Hide n’ seek
It is the most common game being played globally for generations and still remains a favourite with children. Locally, children among themselves select the one person who is supposed to seek out other players who may hide and conceal themselves within a selected area. The seeker is usually selected by pukam, a local way of filtering out the players and the last man standing becomes the seeker. Seeker counts usually blindfolded or in a corner and announces that he is ready to search for the hidden players. The seeker shouts “Empress” with the name of a player to claim that he caught that player. Any player can sneak up to the seeker without getting caught as for that he has to be touched. The seeker, then, has to repeat seeking afresh, again. If the seeker, catches all the players then the first player to be caught becomes the seeker for the next game.
Glass marbles (kanchay) of around an inch in diameter are brought in by the players to play different games. The marbles are fired or flicked into the playing area from the finger joints while standing behind a certain line. In one variant of the game, the player shoots within the ring where the marbles are placed. The marble is supposed to be potted within a hole in the centre of the playing area along with as many other marbles in the ring that are already there. At the end of a marbles game, one of the players ends up winning all the marbles in the game. Marble players tend to turn into marble collectors.
Hopscotch, locally known by some as pehl dhuj, is an ancient game, believed to be played even by Roman soldiers hundreds of years ago. It is still played on pavements, schools and backyards. For hopscotch, a grid of square compartments, big enough to accommodate a hopping and skipping foot inside, is drawn with a chalk on the ground or footpaths. A marker, usually a pebble or stone, is thrown within the grid. Hopping on one foot the player drives a stone from one compartment to another. The one who is fastest to complete the grid while skipping over the stone wins the game. Variations to hopscotch include different formats of the grid, adding time limitations or changing the shapes of the compartments.
Street games like these have now virtually disappeared especially from the urban areas. While it was once a common sight to witness children crowding playing grounds and streets in the evenings from Asr to Maghrib prayers playing hockey, cricket, boxing, badminton and football, this is now rare indeed.
The growing concern among parents for security and well-being of their children and influx of online and mobile phone games, resulted in children from well-to-do families staying indoors or getting a membership in some ‘safe’ sports gymnasium. However, these children are also likely to miss out on some of the most wonderful memories to cherish and things in life that cannot be taught and understood elsewhere.