Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Intruders

We all have guests visiting us from time to time; Friends, relatives; wanted and unwanted. People who come with appointments, and others who like to give a (little) surprise by landing without prior notice! “I was passing by, so thought I will just drop in” or “I was getting bored at home, so I thought of visiting you”. Such people are not bothered that they may be upsetting your pre-planned programme. However, in the true spirit of Indian hospitality, we welcome all with open arms and make them feel comfortable.

But I am going to talk about the visit of three totally unexpected visitors to our house. Let me elaborate.

* * * * * * * * * *

One day as is her practice, after her morning ablutions my wife was standing before the Puja Room, adjacent to our bedroom, paying obeisance or to put it simply saying good morning to the variety of Gods on display; when she felt something amiss in the puja room. Actually she found a lot of things missing – like the silver lamps – a silver idol of Lord Krishna and few other valuables. She also found the radio-transistor kept on a stand nearby missing!

My first reaction was that some petty thief must have walked into the house, through the front door which is often kept open by my wife during the day, when she is busy in the service verandah at the rear of the house or lost among the hundreds of potted plants she has nurtured around the house.

While we were blaming each other, my wife who was going around the house to find out what else was missing, noticed a whole window grill missing in the study room adjacent to the main hall. A burglar had obviously entered the house through the window! It was a pre-planned burglary the previous night, by some one who knew that our window grills were just screwed to the wooden frame without any extra safety mechanism. What shocked us was the audacity of the burglar who had entered the house when we were there; and what made us shudder was the realization that he could have walked into the adjacent bedroom, which was not locked and relieved us of all the jewellery and other valuables in the house, even probably threatening us at knife point! The Lord in whom I have immense faith obviously saved us from much greater loss! It was as if the Lord told the burglar: “Take whatever you want from this puja room but leave my devotee alone!”

* * * * * * * * * *

On another morning, when my wife was busy reading some prayer books, sitting inside the puja room, she heard a hissing sound and to her horror realised that she had illustrious company inside the puja room. Yes, it was a 3 ft. snake (mildly poisonous Sarai ) curled around one of the dozens of framed pictures on the wall.

A courageous person, she quietly got up and closed the puja room door and called my son for help. She was ready to kill the snake with a broom stick. (The number of creepy-crawly beings she has killed with a broom stick is legendary!).

My son had better ideas, and contacted the local snake park and requested them to send someone to catch the snake which was held captive in the puja room. The whole process took more than two hours but the snake was captured alive and taken in a bag by the snake catcher from the Irula community, who are specialised in this art. Though we had to pay a small price, it was better than our family getting a ` `Sarpa Shabham` (snake curse) if my wife had killed the snake as she had originally intended!

* * * * * * * * * *

The third intruder in my house – hold your breath – was a cow! On a Sunday morning, I was totally immersed in reading the morning newspaper lying on the easy chair in my bedroom. Hearing some commotion followed by screams from my wife, I looked up from the newspaper and realised that a cow’s face was staring at me and saying ‘Hello, I am your special guest this morning!!’

By the time I got up from my chair to handle the uninvited guest, the cow withdrew from the master bedroom and moved to the adjacent guest bedroom. It took a lot of coaxing and gentle pushing to get rid of this special guest.

Investigating the mystery of the ‘cow guest’, I learnt that the young cow ( not a calf nor a fully grown one) had walked into the compound of our independent home through the open gate, with the intention of having a breakfast of the delicious potted plants located all around the house. When my wife, who was busy tending to some plants noticed it and started screaming, the cow ran behind the house, and on finding the door of the service verandah at the rear of the house open, it had entered the house, walked through the kitchen and reached my bedroom to say ‘Hi’ to me!

While all of us at home were intrigued by the special visitor, some elders in the family had this to say: ‘Cow entering the house is very auspicious’. Auspicious or not, we had an interesting story to narrate about our special guest for the next couple of weeks!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Games We Played

The other day my six year old grandson was looking grumpy and irritable. When I asked him what his problem was; he said, “I am bored! Nobody is playing with me”. Even a three year old child today talks of getting bored.

My mind raced back to the time when I was a kid, growing up in a Mumbai chawl with scores of kids of all age groups for company, I never knew the meaning of the word ‘boring’. The moment I returned from school, I would dump my school bag in the house and run out to play with other boys of my age group in the compound area of the building complex where my family was staying.

Even those days Cricket was the most popular game – the underhand variety, with tennis balls and stumps drawn on the walls of the building. It was not uncommon for the aggressive batsman in the group breaking the glass panes on the windows of the flats nearby trying to hit a six! As we grew older and started playing with the seasoned` ball (as the red cricket ball was called), the group had to move to the nearby Matunga Gymkhana Ground opposite to R A Podar College of Commerce where I studied. I remember when I acquired a proper cricket bat and ball; I became a hero among the group! I was always included in our team, playing matches against other teams.

Playing marbles or Gilly-Danda or Top (Pambaram as it is called in Tamil) were other games popular among the boys. For playing marbles, one had to invest a small amount to buy a set of multicolor marbles, contributing to a pool of marbles, and then challenge others for a game. The game involved throwing the collection of marbles a little away from where you stood, and the boys would take turns to hit one specific marble in the spread out. Whoever got the aim right was entitled to keep the entire lot of marbles on the floor. Boys with perfect aim would have multiplied their collection of marbles by the end of the game…several times!

Gilly-Danda involved hitting a small rounded wooden piece (Gilly) with sloping edges on either side with a longer stick (Danda). The knack was to hit the end of the Gilly first to make it rise from the ground and then hit it hard with the Danda to send it flying as far as one could. The experts among the boys would keep hitting the small piece again and again moving forward around the compound of the building with the others running behind them. Those boys who were not able to lift the Gilly from the ground or could not connect it with the Danda after it rose from the ground were declared out from the game.

Playing the Top required special skills. You tied a strong string around the ridges of the conically shaped Top with a bulging head, at the bottom of which there was a pin on which the Top could be spun. Keeping the end of the string between your thumb and forefinger, you would fling the top, which then landed on the ground, spinning beautifully for some time. It is also an art to pick up a spinning Top from the ground on to your palm without breaking its momentum. Some boys were also experts in the art of flinging the Top with a reverse swing, managing to get the spinning top directly on to their palms without hitting the ground! I must confess that I was not good at it and envied the boys who could perform this trick!

And there were games like Kho Kho, based on the popular musical chair concept, featuring boys and girls instead of the chairs or HU-THU-THU (kabadi..kabadi in Tamil). I also remember playing “leap frog game” in which one of the boys would stand at the centre; bending at his waist and the others would run fast to jump over the boy using both their hands, placed on the back of the boy as a lever, to propel themselves forward. Once a boy suddenly decided to stand up while I was about to jump over him, sending me for a toss, resulting in a deep cut on my forehead! Even today I carry the scar left behind due the stitches required to help me recover from the injury.

Hiring a bicycle by the hour and going around the buildings was another activity which the boys and girls indulged in. A serious accident involving the cycle that I had hired put an end to this activity as my mother refused to give any money for this purpose again.

Flying kites during certain seasons was an exciting activity in which even the adults in the building complex participated, at times.

If it was raining or for any reason we could not undertake outdoor activities then there were always games like carrom, chess, cards and board games that would keep us busy! Even Pallankuzhi a traditional indoor activity using a wooden board with 14 hollow portions and a collection of sea shells or `Dhaya Kattam’ (modern day LUDO), were popular with both boys and girls!

The variety and choice of games that we could play then were mind boggling, and we had the freedom to do what we liked, as long as we did not get into trouble which necessitated the interference of the parents!

I pity the modern day kids, many of them growing up in apartment complexes without adequate space for outdoor games. Even if there are playing grounds in the locality, the paranoid parents do not allow
them to go and play because of security concerns. The parents who can afford ofcourse send their children to special coaching classes for cricket, basket ball or football etc. paying a hefty fee. Even these are aborted because of the priority given to attending the mandatory special classes on different subjects, considered necessary if the boys/girls have to perform well in their classes! The end result- is that the boys and girls are always glued to a variety of gizmos and electronic media, entertaining themselves with games and cartoons at home. Missing the fun of outdoor activities, so necessary for the development of the body and mind of kids. And also for lessons in relationship management!

The only solution to this problem is for the Schools to have a compulsory games period for all classes at the end of every day before the children leave the school for their homes! If the school has space constraints then such periods could be rotated between different classes on different days!

If the situation is allowed to be continued, I am afraid the modern day kids will turn out to be intelligent zombies unable to face the Real World! Young parents and concerned grand parents! Think about it.