When playtime involved real mud, sweat and bruises
I can’t help but sigh about the childhood that the kids in my neighborhood now have. Perhaps they are smarter with their exposure to the wonders of the internet. But do they know how to convince a neighbour to return the ball that landed in their home because of a missed catch? Probably not!
It was getting to be close to seven in the evening. I knew that anytime now mum would start looking for me. But we were in the middle of a game and I couldn’t have left just like that, right? When it came to playtime, sometimes we just lost track of time — like that day. Hide-and-seek was our favorite game for it was easy to hide behind the many cars in the neigh- borhood, stairways or even behind the trees in the parks. On other days, we played games like hop- scotch, dog-and-the-bone, tippy-tippy-tap, cricket and more. On many days, we simply cycled around the neighborhood for hours until we ran out of breath or newer routes to explore.
Exhausted with excitement and playing way too much—as my elders pointed out—by the time I reached home, I mostly had no interest or energy to even consume dinner, much less attend to homework. In any case, both had to wait because the mo- ment I stepped inside I was asked to head straight for a shower.
I kind of agreed with mum and dad on that: the sweat and mud that I would be caked in called for a good shower indeed. Frequently, I would also be coming home with bruises. A bottle of Dettol disinfectant was always kept handy at home.
Even as my parents lamented about my carelessness, I knew that they really didn’t mind my playing outdoors. While most kids had already moved on to playing Bricks and Pac-Man on the bulky computers, I was still running around the neighborhood. Though I haven’t checked with them, I am certain that, especially in this era when elders themselves are addicted to Candy Crush, they would take pride in the years they encouraged me to come home with real bruises and even friendly matches, unnecessary loud cheering, and harmless mischiefs.
Of course, I am talking of a different time when it was safe to play in the neighborhood without anyone keeping a watchful eye even as strangers lurked on the streets and diseased dogs slept for hours nearby. When playtime meant nothing else but being on the grounds, roads, and parks— whether these areas were cemented, carpeted or air-conditioned was not something that loomed large in anyone’s mind.
Sleepovers were spent playing house or ghar-ghar which basically meant that we would gather as much stuff as we were allowed—or that would go unnoticed — from our homes
and make our own little ghar, the makeshift tent house. The hours spent on constructing this home always exceeded those spent actually playing the game of living in that tiny thing! There was no sleep to be had in those sleepovers as we pretend- ed to sleep in these shaky homes that we rustled out of our mums’ old sarees and torn bedsheets.
Indoor games too were different. We loved Name- Place-Animal-Thing which we strictly played on the empty sheets of the notebook from the previous class; or Teacher-Teacher which essentially meant us re- checking our old notebooks with a red pen and a bor- rowed pair of spectacles from granny.
As I pen this down, I can’t help but smile at how sun left my skin burnt as I played extra hours during weekends and in summer vacations or how I jumped in puddles on rainy days as I learnt how to make paper boats. Now my bones ache merely at the thought of those times.
I also can’t help but sigh about the childhood that the kids in my neighborhood now have. Perhaps they are smarter with their exposure to the wonders of the internet. But do they know how to convince a neighbour to return the ball that landed in their home because of a missed catch? Probably not!
This piece was first published in Khabar Magazine.