Soiled and torn clothes, scraped knees and elbows, dishevelled hair and panting, we were extracted from our friends' company by our parents, especially as supper time approached and evening turned into the dark of the night.
I still remember how mom would stand in the balcony and shout out, “Mini, Anu, Bulbul...” and this would be followed by a: “This is your final call for dinner and to get home. Wherever you are, you should be home at the count of three.” And then she would start her final threat call, “One, two, and...” The 'and' was a relatively prolonged, and oft repeated 'and' to allow us time to run home, up the stairs!
School would finish by 2:45 pm and we would get home by 3:30 pm. We couldn't wait to quickly get home, change, finish our homework and then at 5 pm we darted out the door. My best friend, Pranjal, would be the first port of call. I'd ring their doorbell in quick succession twice. She knew it was me and then together we'd go to gather up the rest of our “gang”. Very soon the entire compound would have scores of kids with bat, football, racquets or simply just in their trainers, ready to play. We never really planned anything in advance and usually the group leader would announce what we were playing on that day.
The older girls would come a bit later and they normally planted themselves on the park bench, giggling away as they watched the boys playing cricket or simply walking around the apartment block and passing by the cricketing heroes, checking them out. For us, the younger lot, we had much to get through the evening and we were determined to 'come first' in the races or 'win' the game or simply fight over being with your best friend in a team. There would often be seasonal interests too, coinciding with whatever sport tournaments were being widely followed or what sport we were playing in school.
Kho-Kho, Kabaddi, the national sports of India, were fairly popular among children and attracted audience too! Stapoo (hopscotch), Kanchaa (marbles), Gulli-Danda (loosely, the Indian version of baseball), Pithoo (stack of stones that had to be broken and assembled by competing teams), Chhupan-Chhupai (hide and seek), Dog and the Bone (two teams would send in a player each to compete to retrieve the object, usually a handkerchief, from the circle), and the very ruthless maram pitti (similar to dodge ball, albeit with a smaller ball).
We created our own versions of these games too. Then there were games that required a bit of preparation such as treasure hunt, lemon and spoon race, and sack race. Long jump, high jump, sprint and marathon were sports that the more competitive and athletic of the group initiated and everyone joined in.
Summer saw teams assemble over patang ladana or kite flying. Acrobatics weren't commonly taught in schools but where children learnt these, they wouldn't shy away from flaunting it! Gymnastics reminds me of my daughter, Nainika, who would invariably do the somersault, often even with one hand and it left onlookers mesmerised.
I personally loved volleyball, cricket, dodge ball, pithoo and competing with the boys in racing and high jump. Once as we were showing off who jumps from the highest point, we jumped from the terrace and, notoriously, it led to Ankit's fractured leg. So, a word of caution here: Do not try this at home!
Oh, and if Harshal is reading this he would recall, rather painstakingly, how I nearly broke his nose with a leather ball during a game of cricket - I was bowling and let's just say the ball went slightly astray. I hardly see any of the friends I grew up with now but know that we all saved many of these memories in our hearts, often to pour out as stories from our childhood for our children and their children.
The evening was packed with a lot of activity and as we took a break from running and jumping, while catching our breath, we would make grand plans to discuss the next performance or activity of our 'Fun Club' that we set up. This usually would be a skit for a festival, painting competition and creating an exhibition of artwork for the residents to enjoy.
One such summer holiday, I decided to set up a community library for children in the apartment complex. With some space offered in the office, this was an excellent way to encourage reading as also to share our favourite books after we had read them for others to enjoy. I personally catalogued these and stuck labels on them, numbering and naming them. Recently when I picked up an old box of items from my childhood, some of these books surfaced and brought back so many memories.
The box also had a handwritten story book I wrote with Pranjal. My school friend Geetika, a mother of two now, still recalls her favourite stories from this collection.
Many such treasure troves are now lost, never to be found - one such was a handwritten poem (100 pages long) written about Ladakh, as we spent a summer holiday travelling through Leh-Ladakh with family. Another summer vacation, as we created ruckus in an otherwise quiet neighbourhood, my mother got all of us involved in a “recycling” project and taught us how to make papier-mache objects. The image of us all bringing old newspapers, ripping them together, then soaking them in small buckets of water. We would be sat on the staircase in groups of twos or threes, occupying our entire staircase from top to bottom.
Days later mom gave us the task of crushing the soaked paper shreds in our tiny mortars and pestles, brought from home. Then the next day, she gave us the multani mitti to add to it and showed us eventually the magic of creating our own papier-mache craft items. A group activity and a constructive way of playing, rather than watching films on VCR (video cassette recorder), was very welcome for all parents even though the mess we created had to be cleared up by us all by washing the stairs - another welcome activity again for a summer's evening.
I watch my nieces and nephews chat to their friends, discuss gadgets, video and Xbox games, often even books and sometimes exchanging tricks learnt in school. Unless encouraged by parents as community activities, the many games we played as children will be lost to the diaspora kids. They remain unfamiliar with what could be a fun way to connect to their own Indian roots. My daughter went to Balgokulum, where many of these traditional Indian games were played.
As children prepare to return to school and enjoy the last Bank Holiday weekend, I am reminded of my own childhood, school summer holidays and growing up in India. Holiday homework was a key highlight of the summer holidays for us as we received tonnes of it from school. I actually do not recall ever finishing it on time!
Well, the editor of 'iGlobal' would probably say nothing much has changed even now.
Lakshmi Kaul is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular Talking Point column for 'iGlobal', she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.