“Hal kabdikabdikabdikabdi….”

Of morning walks and memories

Gathering for the game

“Hal kabdikabdikabdikabdi….” At least that’s what it sounded like at the time. So many of our childhood games were learnt by osmosis that one cannot be certain about whether the aural memories are accurate. Like LOND.. London, we never questioned why the ON was dropped from the spelling in our little neighbourhood gang. With a minimum of investment in material and movement, we used the street, undeveloped plots, houses under construction (these were a special favourite), and other mysterious spaces to play our games. Those were times when the Delhi roads were safer for kids to play than they are considered now. We would leave our respective homes soon after the morning meal on holidays and return only when the hunger pangs arose again. On Wednesday evenings (I think) we would gather around in the living room of the one family who had installed the first TV on our street. The room used to be full of little kids glued to the little screen, fascinated more by the idea of the box than the images, otherwise how could a bunch of hungry, sweaty kids become enthralled by the sight of Guru Dutt mournful against a pillar in Pyasa? On some weekends, films were the attraction, and I have no memory of hearing any irritation or resentment by the family members who had this periodic set of uninvited guests. Comings and goings into other people’s homes was seamless for the children and everyone watched over our little band of boys and girls. The games we would play included oonch-neech, tada-pani, French cricket (I could never find the source of that title), Stapu, gitte, gulli-danda, chhuppan-chhupai, pitthu, and there was one about four corners, which would be competitively occupied. The driveway in our homes would be used for this one. Sticks, pebbles and stones were the standard material, fashioned into appropriate size and shape by some neat handiwork; although an odd tennis ball was a precious addition. Then we would have taada-pani (ouch, that used to hurt when the ball hit the body) cricket till the ball went bust, after which we would create little skits of imitating people we didn’t like by pretending that the ball was their face which we would manipulate with a voice over (So-and-so…hehehe; as we pinched the face up and down). But what triggered these memories and a Facebook post recently was a game of Kabaddi!

Sweeping the field and marking the sides

Of morning walks and memories

Morning walks in my current neighbourhood consists of circumambulating around our apartment complex where many regulars cross each other daily. Just this morning I was stopped (at a safe distance) by a lady who lives in the building across from us. We see each other often and wave, now that smiles are no longer the obvious choice of acknowledgement. A former medical doctor, she is retired and now lives by herself. We had exchanged a few words in pre-pandemic times, but she didn’t seem to remember that. “Senior citizen?” she asked me this morning. “Yes”, I said, pulling down my bandana to greet her with a visible smile. “Not like these youngsters who are so much into themselves” she added approvingly and launched into a conversation about the times. Her use of the label was significant; I had entered into the “visibly senior” category.

A lady!

Morning walks are peppered with small encounters like this that can be such a significant start to the day: Our neighbourhood cat and her kitten at play, the occasional tabby that lands up with a frown hoping to make more kittens, the seasonal fly-past of the flamingoes headed for Sewri, puppies from the building and another regular, a dear neighbour (I don’t know her name) who has adopted two dogs, one with a missing leg and the other who’s markings would make a fine jigsaw puzzle. There is something very special about her as she ambles along, perhaps with some discomfort on account of her age. As soon as she exits the building to walk her dogs, always one at a time since the three-legged one needs special attention, the local strays just envelop her with affection, twisting around in a special tail-wagging routine that could compete with a bunch of bees. It’s so special how dogs can recognize kindness.

The kitten and I

It was on one of these post-lockdown mornings that I noticed a new addition to the morning activity. A cluster of boys had started gathering at the municipal park behind our building for a morning game of…… Kabaddi! Watching them play every morning as their routine becomes more practiced, I went down a rabbit-hole of childhood street games. Reshu helped to collect the following passage.

Two raiders
An audience is gathering

Kabaddi

Kabaddi is a contact sport played between two teams, starting with a raider running into the opposing team’s half of a court, tagging out as many of their defenders as possible, and returning to their own half of the court, all without being tackled by the defenders, and in a single breath. Crouched in breathless concentration with all sides of the body in acute attention to the opposite team, and constant movement to defy being attacked, the entry and exit into the enemy zone requires considerable skill. Between tag and tackle, each team accumulates its scores toward a win. Kabaddi is hugely popular in India, and other South Asian countries, although over the last few generations, it began to be looked at as poor person’s game. With the recent introduction of national and international tournaments, media attention and promotion by local authorities, Kabaddi seems to have revived some of its earlier glory. It is the national sport of Bangladesh and the State sport of several Indian States.

Game on

There are two major kinds of kabaddi: Punjabi kabaddi, the circle style played on a circular field outdoors, while the standard style, played on a rectangular court. The game is known by several other names like chedugudu in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana; kabaddi in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala; kabadi or ha-du-du in Bangladesh; bhavatik in Maldives, kauddi or kabaddi in Punjab; hu-tu-tu in Western India, hu-do-do in Eastern India; chadakudu in South India; kapardi in Nepal; and sadugudu in Tamil Nadu. All names of the game have the repetitive sounds which are to be carried on the breath to ensure that a person does a round without breathing in again.

References in religious sources suggest that the game was played during the Vedic period in Ancient India all the way up to Iran, and there are some references to Kabaddi being a favourite game of the Yadava clan. There are references of Krishna and his friends, as well as Arjuna in the Mahabharata, indicating that his skill of entry and exit in battle was attributed to his practice with kabaddi. Whether or not these stories are factually correct, kabaddi has received a lot of recognition in India as a competitive sport, including its introduction to the Indian Olympic Games in 1938.

Stories of sport

Given the importance of games during childhood, these are featured in many stories from the past. The unfortunate divide that has entered into children’s games related to simple neighbourhood play with minimal materials and more social engagement, and a finer use of sensory and motor acuity, has led to a large scale abandonment of many of the games that we learnt and engaged with as children. Middle and upper class families are more likely to invest in individual or small team sports with fancy equipment that require professional training. Well, skill with traditional games can also be enhanced by training as we have seen in the movie production of real life examples in Dangal, and the fictitious story of a young woman athlete in ‘Panga‘. Sports films are very popular and have contributed significantly to the recognition of these sports as well as the importance of fitness and discipline.

One of the most influential stories around the divide between traditional games and the shift associated with progress is Munshi Premchand’s Gulli-Danda, the story of two childhood friends who played the game as youngsters. One of them, from a poor family, was far more skilled than the other, the son of a wealtheir family. When, after many years, the second one returns to the neighbourhood after gaining name and fame, he desires to relive his childhood, the place of his memroeis and also, a game of gulli-danda with his childhood friend. The nostalgia is palpable as he returns to the neighbourhood and calls for his childhood friend. Is he still as good as he used to be. In a moving account of the match between grown-ups, divided by their respective paths, we witness how the competition is so easily one by the city-returned. Catch this wonderful narration of the story by Sameer Goswami to relive the elegance of this popular tale that starts with a high praise of local games.

Until next week, stay safe and well.

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