Looking back at what can be safely called an eventful existence; self spots quite a few blots. One of the more prominent splotches among them should definitely be self’s experiences playing the game of kho kho – a rather complicated game of Indian origin. In fact a more accurate expression would be - ‘self’s experiences not playing the game of kho kho when I was supposed to be playing it’ rather than ‘self’s experiences playing the game of kho kho’. For well…more than three quarters of my kho kho playing days were spent by self wondering what I should be doing at that instant in the kho kho field.
Let me begin by trying to put the facts squarely – the rules of the game as self saw it. You had to have two teams of course, the numbers around 8 I suppose but subject to change based on availability of more talent. Now some fellow drew a large rectangle on the ground first. One team sat on a sort of line which was parallel to the longer side of the rectangle and at equal distances from the 2 longer sides. The trouble here was – they sat in a line in a lousy manner. One fellow faced one long side of the rectangle and the other chap (or girl) faced the straight opposite and the third as the first and the fourth as the second and so on. It was all so arranged that well, if in the middle of a strenuous game, you wished to have a casual and friendly chat with your neighbor, it was most uncomfortable and they all generally snorted a lot.
The second team sort of sent hooligans in batches of three into the rectangle and the first team had one fellow always running, trying to catch the hooligans. The hooligans could cross the central line as they wished (and kick anyone in the line they had a grudge on) while the catcher could suddenly say “Kho” to a sitting chap and occupy his place of comfort while the sitting chap now tried to catch the hooligans.
Now I just cannot make this clearer as this is all self really knows. So if self asked you to play a game of kho kho right away, you might probably feel as baffled as self was all those days. Anyway, now that the rules have been described in detail, self progresses to my travails inside the kho kho court or ring or whatever one calls it.
Back in those days when self studies in class 3, the main game during PT hours used to be this bally kho kho. Literally all boys and girls in class played it. And well, they all seemed to know how to play the game unlike self who probably missed the class when the game was explained by the harassed PT teacher due to a bout of fever or something. So when we sat there in that line self described, it was all mysterious to self. All the people sitting in the line were yelling about asking the runner to give them the ‘kho’ as if they would then go about and win the game in seconds for the team. And the runner generally never paid heed to these poor screamers. He just ran about until he/she felt tired. As for the people who we were supposed to be catching, well, to this day self does not know what they were doing in the rectangle and how some of them actually managed to get themselves actually caught. And once the game was over, all of them went about blaming someone else for the defeat (and when we won, they said something like– “If not for me and my great earth-saving efforts, our team would now be boiling in oil” with a mannerism that would have put a prouder version of the generally earth-saving to utmost shame). And all this when self was still trying to figure out what was going on!
Now I presume I need not specifically mention that self generally never got a chance to catch the fellows who were supposed to be caught. So in essence, my PT hour was spent by self sitting in the hot sun watching with a calm detachment the antics of those around self as each of them tried desperately to become the ‘hero of the day’ or something. And when one of them actually managed to do something and become a team-saver, self prudently chose to stay away from the chap or gal for the next week or so for fear that they may on glimpse of a gullible self equate me to mud and generally snigger at self’s uselessness in the kho kho field and advise self to learn from their heroics. After one such particularly intense session with a fellow who proclaimed he was the fastest in class, self with all intensity decided that self was going to catch all the people in the next game. But as fate would have it, I spent the next PT hour sitting in the sun still trying to figure out the goings on amidst which self was situated. No one gave self a ‘kho’!
Three weeks later, one fellow by mistake gave self a chance by passing a ‘kho’to self. And self – not a chap who ever let go of an opportunity, decided that self was going to catch all the fellows of the opposing team. And self began running around the line in the hope that some fellow by mistake came within touching distance of self. Since that was not happening, with a determination that can only be described as dogged, I decided that I was going to try and try till I succeeded like that Robert Bruce chap and the spider which thought him the lesson on trying.
Forty minutes later, self’s entire team were bawling at self for running for the whole time not giving any of them a chance and in addition to it, causing us to lose them game easily. Not that self ever felt guilty or anything – self was more like – “Ah! Now I have demonstrated to them how baffling it was to me all these days just sitting in the sun wondering what they did. That should teach them to give me a ‘kho’ occasionally too!”
Self neber got picked for the next 2-3 games but that is another matter..........
However, my most enduring memory of playing kho kho actually does not involve a gaffe by self. By the time self came to class 5, self had established a reputation as a decent khk kho player – and self even started scolding people for making mistakes – some usually called me a snob but they were just jealous……
Anyway, there was this girl called Vijayashree. S. Menon (who incidentally works in cognizant) who generally would give a tortoise a very tight competition in a slow-running race. But of course, to yell at her for committing a mistake usually amounted to suicide. One fellow who had done so before ended up with a biff on his head with her extremely heavy school bag and another girl had the experience of a sock in the face – a veritable adversary Vijayashree. S. Menon sure was!
But one day, in a game where she walked instead of ran and never passed a ‘kho’, self became what you can call pipped, and when self was pipped, not even Vijayashree. S. Menon could achieve the feat of making self quail. I generally let them have it. Once a fellow who began to get ideas that he was invincible just because he pummeled anyone who got within his vicinity with his school belt (with an Iron tip) was defeated by self with better technology – self had a farther reach than him because of a skipping rope I borrowed from the PT room in the guise of practicing. I swung the rope and the rope handle caught him squarely in the nose! The fellow yowled a great deal and from then on, the fellow generally had a measure of deference for self. Anyway, so there was self pipped because Vijayashree. S. Menon, in the name of playing had a little more than stood still in the sun. so after PT hour, a fuming me went over to Vijayashree and gave her a good screaming session. It went something like :-
Self: What were you doing?? Why did you run so slowly?? You expect to catch anyone running like you did? Catching yourself must have been tough the way you ran!!
Vijayashree: (she was stunned that someone had the courage to talk to her like that) : eh?
Self: You running slowly made us lose the game! Do You understand that! Do you play to win or to lose? You idiot! Only eat and sleep all the time!
Vijayashree was goggle eyed with surprise at self’s performance. Even she decided that this was not the moment to display her socking or bag throwing skills. And the teacher came to class and normalcy appeared to have been restored….
But not with her. She was one who never took things lying down….as soon as the lunch bell buzzed, she came towards self with an expression on her face writ with righteous indignation. Even self – looking at her had butterflies in the tummy. She came over to self and the class got ready to view an interesting tussle. But she just screamed at me:-
Vijayashree: You think I don’t want our team to win?
Self (now nervous): Why did you run slowly if you wanted our team to win then?
Vijayashree: (screaming with righteous indignation and tears welling up her eyes): Because “Slow and steady wins the race” idiot!!
I must admit I was literally stumped back then. It was genuinely me turn to look goggle eyed. Self was left wondering how we lost despite her brilliant explanation. No one knew what to say! And Vijayashree never biffed anyone after that day and neither did she play Kho Kho. She moved on to the less skirmish-riddled indoor games.
Soon after, self shifted schools to a Boy’s school which worshipped cricket and football and self’s days of gaffeing playing Kho Kho came to an end