Tamarind is an integral part of South Indian cooking. Tamarind extract forms the base for many yummy dishes like sambar, rasam & tamarind rice.
However, this post has very little to do with tamarind and cooking. As kids, tamarind seeds formed an integral part of the games we played indoors.
My mom and aunt would clean the tamarind pulp and give us the seeds. The seeds were of a dark brown colour!
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We had a box filled with these tamarind seeds. When the monsoon winds blew the trees down, or when it was too hot to play outside, all the neighbourhood kids gathered at home to play games with these seeds.
We would pile all the seeds on the floor, in the middle of a circle that we sat around. The first person would blow the seeds. Being lightweight, the seeds would scatter. The objective was to pick up the seeds without shaking any other. If any other seed shook, the next person got a chance. The winner was the one with the biggest hoard!
As the player concentrated, we would try to think up spells to distract him or her. Those games were so much fun. There was a lot of squabbling, as we decided if a particular seed had shaken or not.
Another game was called 5 stones, which we played with small rounded pebbles. It called for skill, concentration, and lots of practice. We would oil our stones and protect them.
Then again, we played with cowrie shells – a very simple game of both luck and skill, just four cowries, but hours of fun and boisterous shouting!
These holidays, when my mom visited, she introduced my children to some of these games. It was heartening to see the enthusiasm with which they played. They fought over silly, shaking cowrie seeds, and whether someone had rigged the game of cowrie shells by not throwing the cowries but placing them in a pre-arranged pattern.
I watched, totally amused. Simple games with everyday objects that call for dexterity, spirit and patience.
I was happy to see that my kids were not staring at a device, or playing a game with virtual characters. Here, everything was real.
Now, my kids play these games when they are at a loose end! I sincerely hope that these traditional games, which every culture has, do not fade away!