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GAMES FROM MY FATHER

Kathmandu was an overgrown village in the early sixties. It would be difficult to imagine it now but old guide books alluringly described the valley as having as many temples as peoples' houses, a point not far from the truth as we indeed have 33 million deities in our Hindu pantheon whereas Nepal had a population of only 10 million then, a reassuring 3:1 ratio to protect us in our innocence.

My father's mansion Kiran Bhawan located on the heights of Sanepa with magnificent views of the mid-Himalayan range was an island of seclusion just five kilometers from the city center with rice fields ringing it from all sides. Inside we had a bucolic existence - there was a vegetable garden, several orchards, horse stables, milking cows, homing pigeons and, occasionally, even wild boars for the family table - an exercise in self-sufficiency perhaps we need to emulate in our federated Nepal! Living there was truly being isolated from the world outside, except for the games we played.

The mansion was completed in 1939; one among many built by Maharajah Juddha Shumsher J. B. Rana, prime minister of Nepal for his junior sons in virgin grounds south of Bagmati. My father Kiran Shumsher J. B. Rana then a Major General moved in with his family from Singha Durbar the official residence of Rana prime ministers.

One of the oldest games I remember playing was something called, "Look and Find", a memory game from Rudyard Kipling's Kim popularly known as Kim's Game. My father used to place a potpourri of items on a tray for us kids to glance at quickly. Once covered, we had to quickly jot down the items from memory, the most observant among us would win a prize.

I learnt the game of chess early. After sunset and evening chiming of the bells to pacify one of the 33 million, my father was ready for some sundowners and a game of chess. During parties several chess games went on simultaneously. Chess in Nepali is a mind game, 'buddhi chaal', a brainy stratagem. Shatranj to the Persians and Indians, Shaxmat to the Central Asians and Russians this game no doubt exercised the brain. There was no brawn required but only a 360 vision and a sharp mind, a pauper could check-mate a prince with several clever moves.

Another favorite was Contract Bridge, a brainy card game that depended more on guile than the usual lady luck of mindless card games with silly names like 'paplu tiplu' and another distinct misnomer 'marriage'. I learnt the game pretty well but avoided partnering father since our losses would always be my fault. The "post-mortem" had me spinning. I remember it was just awesome watching an expert like my father play with an overbid hand and turn the game around as if by magic!

Pasa was a game of dice as old as the times of the Mahabharat. It was Shakuni's cunning that lost the kingdom for the Pandabs, even their wife Draupati was humiliated by the leering winners. My father's 'pasha' games were not as potent but the emotions of throwing the three rectangular dices, of slapping thighs for emphasis, of winning loudly and losing badly were all very real.

Then there was Billiards, my personal favorite. My father had bought a full-sized billiards table from General Ekraj Shumsher J. B. Rana under what circumstance I never knew but it did fit snugly in one of the large drawing rooms in the mansion. The table was later moved to the trophy room full of tiger skins and antlers. That is where I practiced day and night under the tutelage of an old champion, our "Billiard Baje". Indeed the old hawk never gave any grace, specially, I noticed, when he played against father; they were old but ardent rivals.

How fortunate we were growing up in the TV-less generation of our childhood, although we never knew this at the time. We directly participated in the goings-on instead of remaining mute spectators of televised trivia; we encountered challenges in those intimate environment locking horns with family and friends in games that taught us how to think and to develop while at the same time socialize. The new IT generation will forever miss those halcyon days of our youth. But let us give due credit to the new technology: at least I am blogging!

Comments

  1. Well written,Subodh, and it helped to recall the old days at school.
    I remember the big billiard table at your drawing room.
    The pristine green paddy fields around school can hardly be imagined now.
    Govind

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kiran bhawan was my school from class 1 to 3 back in the mid nineties.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, this brought back my memories of old Kathmandu. One of my aunts' family lived near the Bhavan, and I have passed it numerous times. Great job you have done here and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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