Maybe it wasn’t always a time of innocence and confidences, but it sure was good. The past, that is, the good old days, the childhoods that we have gone through and never will return to. My younger brother played on the streets of Kohima. He and his companions used short bamboos to push cycle tires on the streets which were not as crowded then as they are today. They assembled in public spaces like the Khuochiezie ground, and played some games until it was time to go home.
If I sometimes miss my childhood, it is the games that I miss. We often ganged up into two groups and played soldiers using real trenches that had been dug by the British or the Japanese during the Second World War. Getting shot or shooting our enemies was such an exciting prospect that our war games continued into our dreams as we went to sleep at night, and even in our dreams we experienced the same excitement of the game played in real time. In fact, I have recently heard one of these former playmates recount how much he enjoyed playing soldiers, and how he would love to play it again today if he could find people willing to join him! The thrill of the chase or being chased was that exhilarating.
How fortunate we were to have had the opportunity to play outdoors, to have had our games every evening as a treat, and also bond with childhood friends with these lasting memories. We have also played very good marbles matches. Marbles matches have their own jargon. If a player shouted, “No tokai!” it stopped the other player from making a predictable move. By calling out “Hop!” one could stand on one foot and shoot one’s marble from the knee in hopes of getting better aim. Chipped marbles were rarely discarded. They waited on the bench like reserve players and when one’s luck ran out with a smooth marble, out came a chipped marble to take the smoothie’s place.
Everything boiled down to luck. Playing well was attributed to playing with one’s lucky marble, also called daguli. A bad game could quite well be the result of having broken the daguli marble or having lost it. If it was lost, another would have to prove its worth to take this esteemed position. We have had the most animated conversations on which colour made the best daguli, was it blue marbles or green marbles or quite another colour. Experience eventually taught us that it was not so much the colour but getting used to playing with a particular marble that determined which one was going to be the daguli.
Every birthday was an event. Each month a birthday sprung up to give us cause for celebration and getting together. And the birthday parties involved games of a most vigorous kind. A favourite was Kabadi, our Naga version which we had renamed Kobdi. The two groups, divided by a line, endeavored to catch each other’s players until they ran out of breath, and lost. The older children took great care to divide up teams so that there were an equal number of big children and small ones in each team. Fairness was high up on the rules of the game. Everything was taken in great seriousness and fair play in a game decided if a team could win or lose.
It is a joy to see some of today’s children running about in play. They have so much to gain by using their bodies for play. They are receiving the exercise so needed by their bodies and that helps them avoid obesity and unnecessary diseases. The physical connection that they make with other children via games is a wonderfully healthy connection. Sweating while playing cleans the system. Getting a few bruises from playing is not going to be detrimental to their health. That is what life, real life is all about. You get a few knocks and you spring right back!
We would do a great injustice to our children if we did not teach them to engage in play. Let’s get out more of our homes, make spaces for play and run around and bequeath healthy lifestyles to our children, not to speak of helping them create great memories of their childhoods to recall some day in the future.