Dreaming of a big carom board in a small house: Simla in the Sixties

Winters would be harsh for me..the one born to roam around the entire roads, lanes, by-lanes and the stairs of Lower Bazaar in the Simla of the Sixties. Amma wanted to hook me to home which she found so difficult and more so as having had enough of playing ludo, I wanted a carom board as it was the latest fad amongst all the kids of the neighborhood. I had had enough of snakes and ladders and was enamored by the Red queen surrounded by black and white goatees!

I had rather selected one carom board in a toy shop near to the Jai Medical Stores in the Lower Bazaar and was in love with its feel. I had even kept an old talcum powder hidden under the rack which I wanted to sprinkle on the board to make it shiny and gliding. Perhaps, the loss of not skating on the ice rink, was behind my ardent desire to let my gotees glide smoothy on the carom board, with control in my hands was the unconscious driving force behind acquiring a carom board.

But where was the space in the small room for a big carom board, space enough to put ceremoniously the object of my admiration in the middle and having enough space on the four sides for the four players to sit comfortably. And on top of it while aiming for the perfect shot, one had to bend right-way or left-way or even to bend our neck at an obnoxiously difficult angle to our torso… We needed space which sadly was the most sought after and little in supply hurdle for procuring a BIG carom board!

So finally we got the carom board….but it was small….small enough to find a respectable place on the wooden dewan which would pass as an all-purpose sitting area during the day and a bed during the nights. Despite the small size of the carom board, only three players could perch themselves precariously on three sides and the fourth one would sit on ones’ knees on the floor, stretching his neck enough to aim the striker at the goatees! But it was enough that we had a carom board…big or small… it was nevertheless a carom board. All the neighborhood kids would assemble around it and wait patiently for their turn at the game. At least we had enough audience to appreciate and cheer our game that way! How excited we all were. I would bring out the old talcum powder from its hidden place and sprinkle it liberally on the small board and with my palms would smear it deftly on the entire board. The striker would glide so very smoothly on the board that I would have the same adrenaline rush as I might have got had I gilded like a fairy on the ice skating rink!

Though Amma would be tired of all the noise that we made but she was happy that the kids were at home…and under her control. But was the game as it should be? No, Some of the kids would steal one or two goatees during the commotion and when we would count the numbers….they would win. So we learnt to keep a vigilant eye on the miscreants and to be extra careful about not only how we played but also how others played. What a lesson it was though at that time it was not much important but today I can see a life-lesson in such a simple game as a carom board. And more so as it was a very small carom board. But big or small the rules of the game, the motives, good or bad, of the players and the lessons learnt were, invariably, the same!

Come evenings and the distinguished Carom board would be safely put in corner in a standing position, the goatees counted properly and put in a box. I would be extra careful with the queen….the red one and the strikers who helped us to win the queen!

All would go in one single box…the warring parties, the black and white goatees, the object of our ardent pursuit, the means of our warfare…everything would find a common space for a truce! I would weave my stories about what these goatees would have to talk to one another when they were all put in one single box or how would the striker try to justify striking the goatees during the game. But what was its fault as the command was in the hands of the players…the warring players.

It was much later when I was almost fifty and working on my Ph.D. on the Mahabharata that I could realize the importance of the rules of the games learnt during playing carom board to the rules of the war prevalent at that epic age. The warring parties would meet in the late evenings the way our goatees met in the box, the attackers would know that they did the job at the behest of the commander…. the way our poor strikers hit the goatees while the command was with the person making the strike. And there were a few cheaters as well who would cheat even while killing someone, the way some kids tried to steal some goatees!!

Life has come a full circle for me and I am trying to find a meaning in all that I learnt in a small house, in the narrow lanes of Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties! I wish I had learnt my lessons much earlier in my life but it is nevr too late!!

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