Our childhood was full of games, and most of them were conjured up from thin air without toys or other equipment. Outdoor games covered I spy, Lock and Key, King King Good Morning King and others played with friends on the park that fronted our house at JNU university campus in New Delhi. All these were running games and required only a huge empty space to play.
Besides this we also played extremely bad cricket, a fairly good game of badminton using each other’s garden hedges as the net and cycling that I am sorry to say I could never master.
Though our parents got us some nice toys, I abhorred dolls with satin hair and mechanized toys like barking pups and walkie talkie dolls. Somehow my tiny imagination felt that they would come alive at night and chase me. Their mechanized movement mimicking human actions never thrilled me and I eagerly handed over such birthday gifts to my sister.
We also played a lot of sitting down games that were a great mental exercise. On the way home from school (a journey of around 45 minutes then on a jostling bus) we would play Chinese Whisper. It consisted of one word being whispered into another’s ear and usually went around in a circle. The last girl had to tell the word out loud, making us laugh because its final pronunciation and meaning would be totally distorted with the bus’s noise and our irregular seating.
Another game was called I Went Out To a Party. It was a chain game, where the first member listed out one item on any imaginary menu, the next girl had to tell this and add another item. This chain would go on, but all participants had to list the menu in the correct order besides beginning their turn by saying I went out to a party I had. I am surprised to recall that this game would go on for at least six rounds without any girl faltering.
We also loved to play origami, often folding paper into various designs, streamers and hats. We would also fold the paper into concentric rectangles writing our ‘fates’ on it and played it with each other. Other paper games included cross and knots, joining dots, guessing words with missing letters and Name, Place, Animal and Thing ( where you had to list out all items beginning with the same letter often chosen by one participant). All this required just pen and paper.
Besides this we played board games like chess, scrabble, carrom board, ludo, monopoly and others. Often these were shared toys and had to be carefully put away after use.
Visits to my granny’s house in Tamil Nadu were filled with traditional games like pannankuli ( a game of about counting and filling holes with sea shells with deletions and points), five stones where small pebbles were caught and held by juggling and hopping on one leg on squares often drawn with chalk in the huge cement courtyard.
I am glad to have grown up in a childhood that had such imaginary games, because now I can teach my grandson. He is slowly moving away from his I Pad to gladly join me in such exercises. Also using our imagination in an almost empty room must be the Almighty’s way of showing us that joy can be conjured up out of thin air if we choose to do it.