A sage was once asked as to what was his recipe for a fulfilling life. “Keep the child inside you alive and well”, he replied. I have often wondered at the stark truth that lies within this response and feel regretful that so many of us have smothered the ‘little playful us’ into oblivion, in our mad race to build careers, acquire power and accumulate wealth. There was however a time when this was not the case and the world was a relatively happy place, where adults frequently let their ‘young one’ loose and had fun. There were fewer cases of hypertension or depression, for the ‘child’ took care of these.

Our house in Lahore, like all pre independence bungalows had ample outdoor space to do anything that we liked. Weekends were reserved for cricket as our cousins from the walled city joined us. Other evenings were spent in playing ‘Aankh Micholi’ or Hide and Seek and the entire family - from my grandfather to the youngest offspring of our cook Ismail, joined in for the sheer fun of it. Then there were other games such as ‘Chor-Sipahi’ or Cops and Robbers and sometimes ‘Pithoo Garam’. Rainy afternoons were spent playing Caroms or ‘Pachisi’. It is indeed a pity that most of these games have long since faded into near or total obscurity.

Take ‘Pachisi’ or ‘Chausar’ for example. This was a game played extensively in the Subcontinent from Mughal Emperors to the poet Mirza Ghalib. It consisted of a cross shaped ‘board’ made out of heavy cloth with embroidered squares (eight of which were considered as safe) much like those on the ‘Ludo’ board. This tempts me to say that perhaps the Europeans may have copied this indoor sport from our ancestors.

The ‘gots’ or pawns in this game were dome shaped and fashioned out of wood. They came in four colors (Yellow, Black, Red and Green – one color for each player) and their movement was controlled by the toss of seven ‘cowries’. The number of cowries lying face down or up determined the number of squares a player could move. If a player’s ‘got’ reached an unsafe square occupied by the opponent, the latter’s pawn was ‘killed’ with much fanfare. The player who managed to get all four of his ‘gots’ into the ‘ghar’ or home first, emerged as top dog.

Cricket on our side lawn was a riot, especially when Mr. Muhammad Hussain (who was Secretary of the Cricket Control Board in the late 1950s) paid us a call, but all hell broke loose, when my father’s close friend, the legendary Fazal Mahmud joined the rabble that we insisted on calling the ‘family cricket eleven’. Even my aging grandfather joined the cheering crowd of onlookers, clapping his hands and voicing his opinion on both bat and ball, till one day the red leather missile hit his ankle, forcing him to withdraw to a seat by the window.

Our most popular activity however, was Hide and Seek. 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 thinly sliced maize, while the two bovines continued to feed, sometimes pushing me aside with snouts and covering me with their 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 bath.

While most grownups may not have the time or the inclination to indulge in ‘horse play’, I have made it a point to continue with the activity. In this I consider myself lucky that my children have found life partners, who are keeping the child inside them alive and well.

 The writer is a historian.