I was introduced to board games as a child by my maternal paati (grandmother in Tamil), Meenakshi R. She loved them and could spend the whole day playing different games with her grandchildren or whoever was free and willing. I wasn’t always free, but I was always willing 🙂
We played games like pallankuzhi (a traditional game played with shells and cowries), ludo, snakes and ladders, etc. If I ever got bored playing the same games, she would quickly improvise games on the floor with some pieces of chalk, some string, and other odds and ends that would magically appear from her cupboard. The games were never just games—they were also stories, anecdotes, strategies, wins and losses, all delivered while playing.
Paati died when I was 8, and after her death, playing board games was never the same again—none of my family members or friends could match her enthusiasm and delight for the games. Besides, with school and other growing up activities, playing board games took a back seat.
I resumed my love affair with board games some years back after a chance visit to The Design Store in Bangalore. Tucked away amongst all their furniture and furnishings and knickknacks, was a shelf displaying traditional games from Kreeda. One of the games was Parama Pada Sopanam. Intrigued by the name, I opened the display pack.
It’s the night before Diwali (sorry for the completely unoriginal beginning). It is 10.30 pm and I am at home savouring the calm after a week of hectic house cleaning and shopping and helping my mother make some sweets and savouries.
The house is fragrant with the til (sesame) oil that my mother has just heated with some herbs and spices for the ritual oil bath tomorrow. The new clothes that my parents and I will be wearing tomorrow are stacked in a beautiful bronze tray for my father to hand out after the morning oil bath. The Diwali sweets (theratipal and okkarai) and the savouries (tenkozhal and cornflakes chivda) are also laid out with the leghiyam, a spicy ginger preparation, which is supposed to be a cure against the effects of gluttony that one normally indulges in during Diwali. The rice kolam has been drawn at the entrance to our house, and the clay diyas have been lit and all is well with the world. Well almost. This is the calm before the storm—the storm of firecrackers.
To most Indians, Deepavali or Diwali is not about new clothes, an endless orgy of eating, holidays, and gifts—it is about bursting firecrackers, and the louder they are the better it is. And this is the reason why I hate dislike Diwali so much. I am petrified of firecrackers.
I recall some Diwalis spent crying non-stop and other Diwalis trying to cope and manage with a brave face. As I grew older, the crying bouts gave way to sullen anger and sulking episodes during Diwali. I must admit here that this is something that I have not got over completely, even today.
Like every year, this year too, I have made a conscious effort to not let the firecrackers get to me. It hasn’t been smooth sailing though—a sudden burst of crackers at the market place, where I was buying vegetables yesterday, almost had me bursting into tears. The children in my building, who have been busy with their bagfuls of firecrackers throughout the day today have also severely tested my resolve.