Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Quick Game Before a Rickety Ride

There is something common about rickshaw-drivers across India. No staid living room with artistic game boards for them; a patch of shade, some small pebbles, piece of brick with which to draw a diagram of a game and the rickshaw-drivers with their chariots parked, hunker down for a game.

Two of us (R.G. Singh and Raghu Dharmendra) from the research team of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana (RKP) in the course of our peregrinations have chanced upon many groups of rickshaw-drivers playing impromptu traditional board games while waiting for customers.

A brief over-the-shoulder look at some of these gamesters follows:

In the year 2007, we were staying in Koppala, a district headquarter in north Karnataka, a few kilometers away from Kinhala where we wanted to meet traditional wood craft artisans. Looking for an auto rickshaw, we strolled towards the DC’s office which is looks like a poor imitation of the Vidhana Soudha at Bengaluru.
Auto rickshaw drivers engaged in a game of Adu Huli Ata at Koppala
In the rough road just in front of the entrance to DC's office was a makeshift autorickshaw stand with a few autos parked and the khaki clad drivers grouped in a semi-circle looking down at three of their comrades. The centre of their attention was a triangular slab of broken brick and concrete having some scribbled lines, on closer inspection it proved to be the diagram of the game, 'Adu Huli Ata’ (Goats and Tigers).

Jaipur is another city of palaces apart from Mysore, but there is a lesser-known side to Jaipur that we discovered on our visit in the year 2009. We were at the Jawaharlal Nehru Marg pausing before the ‘House of Pre-owned Cars’ drawn by the sight of two middle-aged men. They were migrant Bengali cycle-rickshaw riders and they were waiting for clients. But what intrigued us was the game they were playing. It was the traditional Chauka Bara which for some strange reason the two men insisted on calling it, ‘Changa Bu.’ They had drawn the diagram in chalk on the sidewalk, pebbles and stones served as pawns, tamarind seeds served as dice; two bricks served as convenient seats while playing the game.
R.G. Singh interacting with cycle rickshaw riders who were playing Changa Bu at Jaipur

Badami is a well-known heritage town, its famous rock-cut temples are remarkable for their exquisite architecture and sculpture. In the centre of the town we saw a group of men under a tree cheering their two friends who were engaged in a game of Chauka Baka (Chakara as it is locally known). Among the two contestants, one was dressed in the typical north Karnataka dhoti and a ‘Gandhi’ cap that was balanced at a precarious angle on his head. The opponent, when not throwing cowrie shells with alacrity, drove a Tempo trax ferrying passengers by the dozen.

A game of Chauka Bara under a tree at Badami
The first thing that transfixes you as you approach Tiruvannamalai is the sacred hill of Arunachala, in its avatar as Agni-lingam. We, the research team from RKP had spent the better part of the hour at the ancient Arunachaleshwara temple, seeking out evidences of traditional board games. We were now in front of the Sheshadri swami ashram wondering if something like a restaurant lay behind the phalanx of autos parked in front of the ashram. Dodging the traffic and arriving in front of the inn we discovered a small shrine dedicated to Mariamma and right there in front of the shrine drawn in sharp lines was the game diagram of ‘Daya Kattam’ which is the Tamil Nadu version of ‘Pagaday.’

Auto rickshaw drivers playing Daya Kattam in Tiruvannamalai
Playing board games is not restricted to these rickshaw-drivers but is universal in its appeal. The dinne or pyol or just plain veranda of houses and temples becomes an arena for a joust of Goats and Tigers, Haralu Guni Manay, Chauka Bara, Pagaday and scores of other board games for common men, women and children.

Photography: Raghu Dharmendra

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