The Game Changers

Unexpected Outcomes 1

‘Ria and Diya, listen, stay in Subha’s house till I come back. I should be back by 4. Open your bags and do your homework quietly. And don’t make a nuisance of yourselves. Is that okay?’

Both of them looked up at me apprehensively and more warmly at Subha, nodding their heads like a flag in dying wind.

I said: ‘Behenji, not to worry. You finish all your work peacefully and return. Until then Subha and I will keep them engaged.’

‘Yes, Bhai Saheb, I know and thanks very much.’

‘Please don’t mention it. Gives us a chance to be with the kids for a while.’

This was true for in Mumbai it is not often neighbors spend any time in each other’s house. And this was the first both for the kids and us.

Our neighbor pinched the girls’ cheeks gently leaving them squealing in mock pain and with a final wave of hand as they gingerly stepped into our house.

Didn’t take more than a few minutes for them to unwind and be their natural bubbly self. What home-work? The girls besieged Subha for stories. Seeing no chance of persuading them to do their mother’s bidding, Subha gave in to their pleas and unspooled the Panchatantra stories embellished with appropriate sounds and animation.

Several stories later, when they showed signs of tiring out on foxes, crows, owls and what-have-you in forests, she deftly switched to Anthakshari – one says a word for the other to continue with a word beginning with the last letter of the first word. With their constrained vocabulary, Anthakshari quickly thinned out yielding to Find-The-Object (FiTO).

FiTO is always a sure hit with kids. And our hall is an ideal setting for FiTO. Hanging from every wall were pictures of gods, figurative paintings from professional artists and family snaps, all in no particular order, provided a canvas of inexhaustible detail. And sitting mutely on shelves and unappreciated by my wife and daughters, those figurines in clay, brass, china, wood and paper collected over the years from all parts of India. Besides being a feast for the eyes, food for the soul, bookmarks to the past and a canvas of inexhaustible detail for playing FiTO, they serve another useful utilitarian purpose – they hide incipient cracks in the walls and unseemly and premature peeling of the paint. It is common knowledge cracks and peels do not arrange themselves on the walls in any particular theme, hence it’s the same with the paintings and figurines in the hall.

All Subha does is to announce an object from this treasure-house of detail for the kids to find it. It is not as easy as it might appear. To illustrate the point, it might be a slice of a mango held by a parrot looking down from a mango tree in a brightly colored painting of a lotus pond, sure to be missed by any casual observer. Or a long-tailed paper kite flying in the sky inadvertently intruding into a family snap.

Subha has this special talent for livening it up for the kids. They just love it when she would reverse the roles letting them enjoy doing it to her.

So it was fun for an hour filled with shrieking guesses, crying foul and gloating successes.

While they were deeply engaged in spotting a coin – that was not a difficult one at all if one knew where to look for – I came in to ask what they would like to drink.

Riya: ‘Hot chocolate.’

Unexpected Outcomes 2

Diya: ‘I’ll have something cold?’

Unexpected Outcomes 3

‘Certainly, why not?’I said returning to the kitchen.

Unfortunately there was no Coke or Pepsi in the fridge. Not wanting to disappoint the kids, I called out Subha and told her to quickly get some from the shop at the end of our street. Not entirely pleased with going out dressed as she was like she got up from the bed only minutes ago, nevertheless she dragged herself out on the errand.

Neither the kids were pleased at this interruption. But I made it up for the kids serving them riddles, easy ones interspersed with not-so-easy.

So it went:

‘What is yours that others use more than you do?’

‘Three brothers go around chasing each other, but never catching up?’

‘What plays when it works and works while it plays?’

Subha was back at the door when I was on:

‘What is it that you throw out to use it and bring it back when done?’

Ria jumped up: ‘I know, I knowIt’s Subha.’

This girl is a budding genius, I thought.

A displeased Subha was more displeased:

‘Appa, you’re mean.You can’t do this.’

I had to clear this up. But first things first. I got the drinks made and offered to the children.

‘Ria, have you seen a ship?’

Wiping off the foam around her mouth, Ria shook her head: ‘Yes Uncle, we went on a ship on Navy Day.’

‘Good. You know a ship cannot stand still in the waters unless it throws out its…’

Diya was quick: ‘Anchors.’

‘There you are. And these anchors are drawn back when the ship wants to move on again.’

Subha was somewhat mollified. Normalcy returned. Though Ria still had the look she was right.

Before I could pose the next riddle, the bell rang.

It was my neighbor back from her outing.

‘Oh, you finished all the work? Didn’t realize two hours have passed.’

‘All done, thanks very much. I hope they didn’t trouble you.’

‘No bother at all. Very sweet they were. We had interesting time. Why don’t you ask them?’

Ria: ‘Amma, can we be with Subha Didi (sister) for some more time? We had lots of fun. Stories, Anthakshari

Diya: ‘We spotted an elephant, a mouse, a gold coinin those pictures.’

Ria: ‘Amma, I beat Didi, she couldn’t find the spider until I showed it to her in the end. Was looking for it all the time in the paintings. It is a real spider in its web, you see in that corner near the vase… You should see how fast it scampered up in a blink when I got close.’

There wasn’t much I could do or say other than looking sheepish.

Diya was not the one to be left behind: ’I also won when Didi couldn’t spot the lizard. It is hiding behind that painting, the one with the moon and the stars. Amma, why don’t we have one in our house?’

Before they could give a complete account of all the species they discovered in our living hall, my neighbor bustled them out to their house saving me from more blushes.

FiTO continues to be played in our house to engage kids visiting us. Only the rules are tightened to include a few exclusions. No living objects. Just to play it safe, no ex-living objects either.

Credits: Pictures from the Net.


5 Responses to The Game Changers

  1. namitasunder says:

    enjoyed reading it. When we were kids it was a routine thing kids playing at neighbors home but now it’s rare. The end part is really very interesting.


  2. Nithya says:

    Haha , no other bugs, thank goodness


  3. We too used to have lots of neighbourhood kids playing in our home, it was so much fun, there was so much loadshedding back then that most of the games were play during those hours! to keep mind off it! 🙂

    These days parent take care that every extra hour is utilzed in one tuition or other…


  4. Subha says:

    I was a little apprehensive when I started reading it. It turned out a fun story !


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