The Games We Played

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Notably, British influence still lingered in the games we played, nearly 20 years after they had left India. Many were directly borrowed from them. Fire on the mountain was one such. Though there were regional variations, many of us played the English versions of the games.

Now this posed a bit of a problem. The names of some of these games were really a mystery, not to speak of sounding weird. This was partly because many of us didn’t know how the English words had to be pronounced and partly because we pronounced them as we heard them! You can imagine the hilarious distortions we came up with. Those from convents who often were the source of these games, snootily looked down their noses at us. I will describe just a couple of the games which I think have become extinct.


Take for instance the game I spy, a videshi version of chor-police. Not knowing what Spy meant, we, the English-ignorant variously called it as ‘Ice Boy’, or ‘Ice Pies!’ (I Spies?) Not having started reading Enid Blyton with her descriptions of all those yummy pies, I thought it was something like an ice cream! Never mind that none of the terms we used – wrongly of course – made any sense for the game, but who cared?

Read More: Galli Cricket

Or this predominantly girls’ game which was called ‘Be quick’. It had the participants sitting in a circle and alternately clapping hands and snapping fingers while chanting, Catergorise (clap, snap), will you please (clap, snap), names of (clap, snap) boys and girls (clap, snap), Be Quick!’ The idea was to say some name with the clap-snap sequence and chant Be Quick!  For the next one in the circle to take it up. Now, could you blame us if some of us chanted, ‘Weak, weak’ instead of Be Quick, can you?


I wonder if this game is played today anywhere at all! Maybe the kids would say, ‘Why bother? We can Google all the names we would ever want. Why break our heads?’

One of my favourite outdoor games with a distinctly British name was ‘London’, which perhaps was another game sourced from our convent friends. It went like this: one person whose turn it was to be ‘it’, (we called it taking den, whatever that meant!!) would turn his or her back and spell L-O-N-D-O-N and call out ‘London!’ before turning around. Meanwhile the others who were standing behind would be making faces or striking weird poses. The moment the ‘it’ turned, they all froze in whatever pose they were and held it. If someone was slow to freeze and was caught by ‘it’, that person would have to take the den. Else it was the job of the ‘it’ to make the others move, laugh or even blink – all without touching them. Anyone caught doing these was ‘out’ and had to take up the chant of L-O-N-D-O-N.

There was a Marathi equivalent to this one which went: Aajibai toop loni! (Grandmother, ghee and butter), whatever that meant, not that L-O-N-D-O-N meant anything either!

Coming to indoor games we had a lot of them – many of them played without any equipment, like Telephone, Word Ending, Word Building, Antakshari, dumb charades and more. Then we had games with cowrie shells or small stones which were thrown up and caught, indigenous board games like dayakattai (pachisi), which could be drawn on the floor with a bit of wet chalk. Some of us also had store-bought board games like Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Carrom and Chess. There was not one moment of boredom, even during the long sweltering summer months.

During summers too many south Indian homes had these huge quantities of tamarind that was sunned and stored away for the year. We helped out with the cleaning and collected all the seeds which could be put to use in many games. Pallanguzhi,  a typically Tamilian game used these seeds if small cowrie shells were not available. Incidentally,  there was fish-shaped pallanguzhi in the family, which seems to have disappeared. The pallanguzhi board has now attained antique status and costs a bomb.

Meen Pallanguzhi 

The best thing about these games was that they not only kept us engaged, but also gave us valuable life lessons – of pulling together, working as a team, allowing a weaker opponent steal a point without making them aware of it, sharing….They also helped us plan, strategise, think a problem through, anticipate the opponent’s next move and so on –while when we were having loads of fun. Likewise, outdoor games helped build our stamina, worked off the excess energy that children have an abundance of, and keep out of the hair of elders at home!

I have long tales to tell about the dayakattai and cowrie shell games the whole family played at home, but this post would become so long that Dakiya would charge me excess postage for it 😊

Do share specific games that you remember from your childhood.

This guest post is by Zephyr, who blogs at The Cyber Nag, where she talks about social issues, families and kids. In her own words, “On my blog, I nag about things that affect me in some way and consequently I  make others react with a post on it.  Sometimes the Cyber Nag will take you back in time; at others you might just be living through the event; you will think, cry and you will laugh with me too.” Head over to the blog to read more of her wonderful writing. 

Images courtesy,

Play 1, Play 2, Play 3, Play 4, Play 5, Play 6, Play 7, Play 9, Play 10, Featured Image 


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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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