I knocked and entered my grandnephew’s room to find him immersed in a game on his mother’s tablet. I stood inside the door for the better part of five minutes, while the boy continued his ‘frenzied battle’ with virtual monsters totally oblivious of my presence. The episode set me thinking about a notion that is often expressed by me in the circle of extended family and friends – that the advent of television, video games and the smart phone has effectively destroyed the recreational cohesion of the family unit. My point of view is often not supported by those that I speak to (barring my own generation), but I don’t blame these teenaged boys and girls for they have not been exposed to the activity we indulged in (along with adults) as children. I am however blessed as my children and their offspring, gladden my heart in the knowledge that traditional recreational activity is not wholly extinct.

It is best therefore that I should dedicate this week’s piece to the wonderful games of my childhood in the hope that it will generate nostalgia amongst my age group and reintroduce the activity to youngsters, who for various reasons, prefer to spend their time hunched over smartphones punching keys (sometimes frantically) in total ignorance of what is happening around them and what they are missing.

The sound of the rhyme, “Keeklee Kaleer Dee, Pug Meray Veer Dee…” rang through our compound as my sister and her friend spun round and round with their hands anchored together and their weight thrown backwards to counterbalance each other. Sometimes this dizzying game was joined in by my mother and aunts, with the boys of the family looking forward to the moment, when the two whirling ‘dervishes’ would let go and then totter around in the most funny manner to regain their balance.

With a profusion of flower pots on the premises and my uncle’s passion for tennis, there was never a dearth of clay shards and tennis balls in the house. This meant that we could set up a game of ‘Pithoo Garam’ anytime, especially on weekends, when our cousins turned up from the walled city. We considered the game to be very masculine, but the females of the family invariably coerced their way in (and in all honesty did not fare badly). The whole idea of the game was to make two teams, stack up seven pieces of shards or ‘theepaas’, stand a few meters away and attempt to break the stack with a tennis ball. The opposing team acted as fielders (there was even a back stop). If the stack was broken, the team doing so would then attempt to rebuild it, while avoiding being struck by the ball aimed at the individual trying to restack the shards. If the mini tower was successfully completed, the team doing so was declared the winner, but if the builder was struck by the ball, the game was deemed lost. Aiming and throwing the ball at the target was known as shooting and a hit stung the receiving party pretty viscously.

The simplest of our childhood games was one where you needed two short branches. One of these was cut to about six inches and sharpened at both ends giving the look of an airship - this was the ‘Gulli’. The other branch was fashioned into a straight twenty four inch long ‘Danda’. A furrow about four inches long and an inch deep was then scraped in the ground and the stage was set for an exciting game. Each player was supposed to place the ‘Gulli’ across the ‘trench’ and then using the ‘Danda’ as a lever toss it as far away as possible. As the wooden projectile arched its way, it was supposed to be caught by the second player – this activity was called the ‘Raab’. If caught, the ‘tosser’ was considered ‘out’, otherwise he was required to hit one end of the ‘Gulli’ with the ‘Danda’ so that it spun upwards and then hit it in midflight as far away and as many times as it was struck. If the striker missed making contact between ‘Gulli and Danda’ thrice or was caught in the process, he was considered ‘out’.

This is just a sampling of how our afternoons and evenings were spent in the days of yore – afternoons and evenings that brought the whole family (even the extended one) together for a few hours of fun and bonding - there was no television, tablet, cellphone or video game then.