Sunday 15 May 2011

Games people play

When I was a kid one of the things I really enjoyed was playing games  - snakes and ladders, draughts, cards, etc . These I was allowed to play along side adults, on an equal footing. It was my dad who was the great game player in our family. He loved playing cards, went regularly to whist drives in the village and taught me loads of different games. My mum came from a stricter family and couldn’t play any card game beyond Snap! Even today I adore playing games, especially cards  - whether its a game of bridge, or a round of rummy, canasta, or learning new games, I’m just in my element, I  just love it. Or indeed any game with a similar type of approach, I learnt the basics of Mai Jong at university , then never had anyone to play with.
One of the best cross cultural cross language card games is UNO, I play it all the time in Algeria – A can get quite competitive over a game of cards!  whilst the younger family members play less strict rules and still have great fun. Once you know the rules no common language is needed to play.  They also play a variant on draughts on a 8 x 8 chequered grid, but where the pieces can move in all directions – I got introduced to this on my last visit by our cook and need to play more to master  the rules and the strategy elements of the game. Marking the grid out in the sand, grabbing a few dung pellets and your away!
In Mali I also came across kids playing with dung droplets for men. This time it was a game I know as Mancala, a backgammon type game I have seen it played with shells, with nuts, with beans. A game for two players , the aim of which is to move your shells around the two lengths of the board one pocket at a time, capturing up shells as you go. The winner is the one with the most shells. I saw this throughout Mali, especially in the Dogon and even saw Mancala pockets scooped out of the rock face, unfortunately I never got a chance to test out my Mancala skills against the locals.
Carrom board
Coming to India I wanted to find out about local games. Of course the favourite outdoor game is naturally cricket, which one sees being played everywhere. But one  indoor game which is popular here is Karrom. There is no equivalent that I know of in the UK . There is even an Indian National Federation! The residents of our Old Age Home have a board and I have been angling for them to teach me how to play. As it turns out, my landlady also has a board and a few weeks ago her daughter and our newish neighbours kids were playing one day on the front porch.
The board itself is wooden, about 1 metre square with pockets are each corner. There seems to be a number of different games you can play with the board and the draught like pieces. Some of which are clearly meant to be gambling games. R taught me one which the kids play. They pieces all start off round the circle in the middle of the board. Up to 4 people can play, each taking a side of the  board as their base. One piece is used, in an almost puck like fashion and the finger is used to skim it across the board. The idea  being to knock pieces off the board into the corner pockets. The winner is  the one with the most pieces. It is a  sort of cross between curling, bowls and snooker, but played with draughts men type pieces! Then there are the rules about how you can make a flick, the direction of the flick, where the puck can end up etc . Sounds simple. I suspect this is a children’s version, and the adult variants could become quite interesting especially when wagers are placed. Clearly a winner in the games stacks where all ages can play.

I recently set my friend’s kids a question in our latest exchange of letters – yes properly written letters from A, B, C and E!  C had asked me what games children played here in India. So my question in return was “Do you know what game we play at home in the UK which originated in India?” Well the answer is Ludo. I played this almost every weekend with my mum and dad when I was a youngster I think it was the lovely bright colours of the board that did it for me.  Ludo and its USA variant Parcheesi, both grew out of the Indian game Pachisi The quest for a local Parcheesi player and for local card games continues!

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