Eaters of the Dolls
First published in The Hindu, 14 July 2015, under the title “Improvisation: the Name of the Game.”
One of our earliest games was to cook the severed limbs of our various dolls on an imaginary fire. It did not seem incongruous to us to lovingly nurse our dolls in the morning, and roast them over a campfire in the evening. By no means was our imagination limited to domestic settings. A visit to a travelling circus prompted many days of launching ourselves off sofas, shouting “Trape-e-e-ze”. A new star-shaped Chinese Chequers board doubled as our radar screen while we valiantly fought off alien invaders. We spent many happy hours running away from imaginary robbers. We hid in caves (under the study table), rode horses (on the backs of sofas) and went caravanning (in a row of chairs with a skipping rope through a door handle to make the horse’s reins). My sister had a powerful black machine gun she would fire one-handed while steering the horses. Our emergency rations were plastic animals sandwiched between a pair of old playing cards. For a couple of future vegans, we were surprisingly bloodthirsty.
It didn’t take us long to figure out it was more fun to bury treasure than to seek it, since finding treasure involved laying your hands on a pirate map, which to our eternal regret we never did. We buried hidden treasure in the gardens of the various houses we lived in across the country, and hid complicated treasure maps all over the place. Our treasure was not simply buried in a hole in the ground, but buried deep, covered by sharp sticks and pointed stones as well as a layer of “fake” treasure near the surface, to throw itinerant treasure-hunters off the trail.
A hilarious game that was much in vogue was Wildest Possible. It involved picking from a random list of boring chores, like washing dishes, laying the table, cooking dinner, and then play-acting to perform the chore in the wildest possible way. In our enactment, dishes were washed in the washing machine and hung out to dry, the table was laid on chairs, and cooking involved making one gigantic paratha from all the available dough and filling. Another favourite was Memory, which involved picking out matching pairs from a set of turned- down cards with pictures of butterflies and houses and fish. This game the home team usually won, since they were familiar with all the marks and stains on the backs of their own Memory cards. A new rule was instated to place one of the host children on each team, just to balance the odds.
A game my family mysteriously enjoyed playing was Scrabble. This was the game of choice on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries and the rare evenings my father got home early. Needless to say, I hated it. It involved long bouts of boredom while everybody else tried to find the perfect 8-letter word containing a Z or a Q to use on a triple word score. It was the most frustrating game I have ever played. I knew the word I wanted to make almost as soon as my turn was over and I had gotten a new set of tiles. I would then try not to fall asleep while my family spent ages laying on all their perfect words on the board. By the time my turn came around, there was never any space to place my own perfect word. In sheer desperation, I would play the first word I could, proceeding to lose spectacularly.
Outdoor games were constantly being added to and changed. What was called “Tippy-Tippy-Tap” in one place was called “Ghost in the Graveyard” in another. We would “pugofy” to decide who would be “denner” at the start of the game, and it was always a relief when it wasn’t me. Crazes came and went. Dark Room was brought to us by a visiting cousin. We played it every day until I fell over in the dark and almost broke my nose, after which it was banned by the powers that be.