The Games We Played

Where have all the games gone? I am talking of the games from our childhood and even those from our children’s, that seem to have vanished at least from the face of urban India. Today children go for their swimming, tennis, karate or skating classes where they are taught the rules and the techniques of the said sport. That is, if they play games at all, busy as they are with their studies. It is all about organised games and sports, not the kind of indoor and outdoor games we played with gay abandon as children.


Come evening and the children of all sizes would be out in the lanes and streets calling out to each other to join in the games. For the next few hours the streets would resound with the laughter and shouting of children. Chores would either have been completed or would be, once the games were over. Homework could wait! Tuitions were of course, unheard of.

The best thing about those games was that there was no need for special and expensive equipment, sportswear, including shoes. Many played barefoot. All that was needed was loads of enthusiasm, energy and lung-power that gave the maximum returns in terms of enjoyment, good health and fun. The entire neighbourhood would be a happy place with so much energy wafting around! We played anywhere we could find some running space – on the streets, vacant lots, even the terraces. But then traffic was sparse – just the odd scooter or car – only lots of bicycles, with the riders and players adept at dodging the other! Those that lived in rural areas or went to their native villages during summent had the additional joy of swimming in the ponds or even wells!

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Gillidanda, lagori, kho-kho, kancha (marbles), langdi, I spy, tag (which has different names in different regions of India), rope skipping….and indoor games like telephone, word building, word ending, snakes and ladders, and my perennial favourite — name, place, animal and thing, among many others. The list is by no means exhaustive. And these are just the games I had played as a kid. There are hundreds of other games with regional variations, played in other parts of the country.

Equipment was rudimentary. Cricket needed just a bat, a ball and some sticks for the stumps. If sticks were unavailable, three stones or bricks did the duty. Present day umpires with all their hi-tech slow-motion replays and such, could take a lesson or two from those little arbitrators for being fair while judging the dismissals based on nothing but their eyesight and commonsense that told them if the ball had touched one of the ‘stumps’ or gone through it.

Of course, even today there are some small pockets where children play these old fashioned games and it delights me no end to see them. For instance, the children in my society play this game called Ghost in the graveyard – a variation of chor-police, with the ghost replacing the chor. It brings a smile to my lips to hear the kids chant 1 o’clock till midnight before going in search of the ghost, and squealing their heads off when they find the ‘ghost’ — as if it were a real one!

Going back to my days, the games changed with the seasons. It was not something fixed like, say, if-it-isJune-we-play-this-game kind of rule. But somehow, as if on cue, the games changed – across the town. One day the kids would be playing cricket and the next thing you know, gilli-dandas would be out, or kites of all shapes and hues would dot the skies; or the shiny little marbles would come out for lively and fiercely fought over games. Did someone spread the word secretly in neighbourhoods? Who told them to put away their pads and take up the gilli-dandas? No one would think of playing something out of season.


Games were broadly divided into boys’ and girls’ games. There were some that both genders played, but we mostly played separately.

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For instance Langdi or nondi kal (Tamil), was a girls’ game. Then there was hopscotch. We called it tikkar billa or Pandi (Tamil) and was a very popular game. All we needed was a piece of chalk if we played on cement or concrete or a stick if it was the playground or a mud lane. The squares were either simple or elaborate, which we called ‘aeroplane’. It involved an intricate sequence of jumping with one both feet into the squares without touching the lines.

We girls also skipped rope singly and in pairs, sometimes to the accompaniment of songs.

There were other exclusive girls’ games too, which boys wouldn’t be caught dead playing, except maybe with their sisters and that too in the confines of their homes! Likewise, some of the more lion-hearted girls challenged and joined the boys in their boisterous games. But this again, was rare.

And then there were the boys’ games like gillidanda, kancha (marbles), cricket, football and kabaddi. Needless to say, they often played rough and came back home looking as if they had been in some battle! Fisticuffs were not uncommon either.


Some games were played by both sexes, separately or together. Lagori  as it is known in Maharashtra, was one such game. This game, according to Wiki goes by different names and variations in different regions of India (Sitoliya) . Kite flying was another game that both boys and girls did together, though it was dominated by the boys, girls only being allowed to hold the ‘manja’ or sometimes given the thread, if the going was smooth.

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  1. You reminded me of my childhood. I think I played almost all the games that you mentioned. word building, word ending, scrabble, snakes and ladder, kites, marbles, gilli danda..all of them. Btw, the pallanguzhi you mentioned is now I think called as Mancala. Ammu asked me to buy it for her and I did. Evenings in our community resemble those childhood evenings we had. All the kids are out on the streets riding their bikes, skating and then stopping to chit chat and all the girls circle and gossip. They don’t want to come inside no matter how late in the evening it is. As the sun sets really later in the evening, they play till almost 8.30 PM. 🙂 while the older one slouches on the sofa with the ipad playing games. 🙂

    1. Oh they play all those games in the US, do they? You do have a wonderful community then! I had wanted to buy pallanguzhi but it is so expensive online and my sister in Coimbatore couldn’t find a good one. I guess they only sell the antique pieces today at a huge price. Ah, the older one! I can visualise
      him there on the sofa 🙂

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