game an oldtimer's lamnet
The Girl Next Door
week, I was flipping through the Bangla channels, looking for some
decent Pohela Boishakh programme to watch. I suddenly came upon the
actor Ilias Kanchon surrounded by a swarm of children. There was something
about the _expression on this local film legend's face that made me
stop and watch the programme. He was talking about his childhood,
the carefree days before cable TV and the Internet, when his days
were filled with endless games of danguli, hadudu, gollachuut,
tchowa-tchuwi and more. He recalled with relish the days of old
when he collected baby mangoes during storms, swam in the lakes, and
flew kites when the weather was fine. While I was listening, mesmerized
by the visions he concocted, most of the children stared blankly at
him, not having even heard of the games he was talking about.
So when Mr. Kanchon
finally asked them what they do these days, most of them mumbled something
about computer games and television. The TV anchor was smilingly apologetic
as she said something about the increased pressure of studies, and
space constraint. One girl piped up and said that their school had
a playground with slides and swings, but then mentioned that they
weren't allowed to use these, because some kid had slipped and hurt
himself. The actor was shocked, and exclaimed that scrapes and bruises
were part and parcel of a normal healthy childhood. His audience didn't
look very convinced.
The episode woke
me up to the realization that kids today really don't have a childhood.
Cooped up in their cramped flats, their idea of a good time is catching
that Indian soap on TV, eating at that hot new hangout, playing yet
another PC game. No wonder they're always bored!
didn't have PS-2's when we were growing up, but I think we managed
pretty well for entertainment. Before our school expanded and acquired
a huge campus compound, replete with a basketball court and an auditorium,
amongst other things, we had a small dirt playground and boy did we
make good use of it! Our tiffin periods were filled with chase games
like borof-pani, tchowa-tchuwi, and the highly popular Rescue.
It was literally war, as two teams fought for supremacy, one on the
run, one giving chase, and everyone was invited. As our young muscles
spurred us onwards at great speeds, we gained the stamina to remain
fresh at the end of a long day. I see school-kids today, almost collapsing
under the weight of their schoolbags. Recess is spent chatting over
tiffin. Ask one to climb a flight of stairs, s/he will be panting
long before s/he reaches the top.
Don't get me wrong
here. Many good schools around town put a lot of emphasis on sports
and physical activities. You have all these specialist coaches coming
over to train you for sports like basketball, cricket, football and
handball. Physical Education classes are incorporated into the school
curriculum for many institutions, and some schools have mandatory
PE exercises during their daily morning assembly. You have all these
heated inter-school sporting competitions and annual sports fetes,
all devoted to making the educational experience a complete one.
However, in taking
a leaf out of the Western books on physical education, many institutions
have neglected the traditional games that we used to enjoy as children.
games didn't require additional components or n GB of storage space.
In fact, all you needed to bring was yourself. Whatever they lacked
in terms of gadgets or special effects, your imagination filled in
the gaps for you. And all those things your PE teacher tells you that
those seemingly meaningless exercises are good for, the games of old
fulfilled them. Take ekka-dokka (hopscotch) for example.
Not only did you have to have tremendous lungpower (when yelling 'chee'
without stopping for air), you also needed to have good balance. From
kho-kho to kumir danga, many of these games offered
more than sufficient exercise for the entire system.
Coming back to
the question of indoor games, look at any birthday party today. You
have a whole bunch of noisy kids coming over, devouring all that food,
exchanging gifts, beating up a paper lantern to get to the hidden
gifts, creating mayhem with snow-spray, and dancing. Then everyone
goes home, and Mummy is left with a lot of cleaning up to do. Just
a decade or so back, all the parties I went to involved fun games
like "L-O-N-D-O-N London", pillow-passing, and hide-and-seek
games like 'Murder in the Dark' and Tilo Express. The host/ess didn't
have to go into elaborate planning so as to keep everyone entertained,
and there was far less cleaning up to do afterwards. Where has all
are so many reasons why these games of old are dying out. Space constraints,
pressure of studies, the fact that most schools put more pressure
on globally recognized sports rather than local games, and also the
fact that kids today don't mix with their neighbours (for whatever
reasons) as freely as our parents did. I mean, how many of you know
the other kids in the same apartment building as you? As in know them
well enough to hang out with them often? You don't see too much of
the para cricket anymore. Kite matches are just about unheard of.
Maybe it's all
a part of social evolution or something, and these old games were
meant to become extinct because they just don't fit into the modern
scheme of things. Whatever the reason, I feel really sorry for the
kids of today. They really don't know what they're missing out on.
Translated by Mohammad Hammad Ali
Seeing that the
stranger looked somewhat familiar, Ramdhan approached a bit farther
from behind the trees. He felt a chill down his spine upon recognizing
Mr. Khagesh. Khagesh Khastagir, the archaeologist.
was Mr. Satyaprakash. He was saying; "I have never heard word
of the place being haunted. You can easily spend two days here. It
won't be any trouble at all, especially since you have a servant with
you. You remember the beautiful temples you saw here during your last
trip; all at least hundred-fifty to two hundred years old. People
like you hardly venture to the countryside; we are lucky to have you
amongst us after such a long time!"
Ten years was
a long time. Khagesh Khastagir was a friend of Ramdhan's uncle. He
lives in Kolkata, renowned archaeologist or something of the kind.
His work brought him to the village of Jam Haat, mostly to inspect
the brick temples that date back at least two hundred years. He even
has several publications on his work here.
had a mild interest of the matter, but never gathered the courage
to approach Mr. Khagesh. He could never quite forget an incident.
Ramdhan had dropped Mr. Khagesh's stone figurines. Being a "little"
ill tempered, Mr. Khagesh had got him by the hair and waist before
unceremoniously slamming him. Ramdhan had been in pain for ten days.
Ramdhan had always
been of a calm disposition. He was hardly seventeen at the time and
quite used to doing odd jobs for everybody, as well being told off
rather frequently. Ramdhan had more or less accepted the fact that
all members of the household would scowl at him every now and then.
seemed genuinely happy upon Mr. Khagesh's visit and the prospect of
his staying at the Ganguly abode. He was saying, "The south-facing
room in the first floor would be the best for you: very roomy; lots
of fresh air. You also get a view of the Gandaki Mountains. Perfect
place for your work."
Oops! That's the
room where Ramdhan left his flute! A very cherished one too he had
bought it from the carnival for four aanas. That seemed like ages
ago now. Ramdhan was fond of playing his flute on idle afternoons
beneath the chestnut tree out in the northern fields. It was his favorite
pastime. He hardly stayed home these days, and no one seemed to care.
But he has to
get the flute back! It has been a part of him for so many years! The
only thing he could do now was lay low and wait for a chance to retrieve
the instrument. But he must not run into Mr. Khagesh. Who knows, he
may still have that temper of his! He certainly had not changed much
Mr. Khagesh had
arrived in the morning and stayed in all afternoon. Just a while before
sunset, he came and stood at the gate? Was he about to go out now?
Ramdhan concealed himself farther behind the tree.
Mr. Khagesh went
back in, and returned almost right away with a stick in his hand.
He took the main road leading towards the east, clearly out for an
for about two minutes. Then he came out from behind the tree and cautiously
approached the house. He would have to be careful not to run into
the servant and create the whole fuss of a burglar alert.
The servant was
in the ground floor kitchen. Ramdhan took the stairs and headed right
to the room of his concern.
The door was locked
from the outside. He would have to go round to the balcony and then
enter through the window. For that, the window would have to be open…
and yes! It was open!
the room. Little stone artifacts were spread all around the room.
There were also papers, pens, pencils and other stationery items.
But the flute was nowhere to be seen. The basket where Ramdhan had
kept it now housed a lantern.
Outside, he could
hear sounds of an impending storm. Ramdhan had noticed the dark clouds
gather during his wait behind the tree. Storm seemed imminent any
moment now. The wind was blowing harder and harder, carrying in a
few stray leaves through the open window. Ramdhan was getting anxious
now. He looked under the bed, the pillows, and the cupboard, even
in the ventilator shafts.
And then he heard
footsteps coming up the stairs.
Ramdhan had little doubt that it was Mr. Khagesh returning due to
the storm. Recalling that incident of a decade ago, Ramdhan felt as
though his blood curdled.
approached the closed door.
Ramdhan once considered retreating through the window, but he felt
as though he was paralyzed. Moreover, what of his flute? He had not
found it yet!
He heard of the
door being unlocked, and then it opened wide. Ramdhan stood still
where he was. He would just have to accept what was about to happen.
But what happened
was quite contrary to what Ramdhan had expected to happen.
Upon eye contact
with Ramdhan, Mr. Khagesh made a few weird sounds and then unceremoniously
fainted. Ramdhan's flute slipped out of his coat pocket. Ramdhan wasted
no time in picking it up and rushing down the stairs.
Being abused and
scowled at since childhood, Ramdhan had not realized that Mr. Khagesh's
reaction was quite normal. Ten years ago, on a stormy night just like
this one, Ramdhan had succumbed to a thunderbolt right on his head.
Even ill tempered
archaeologists did not like running into ghosts!