Some of my best memories of childhood lie there, in that field of grass and shrubs and trees and a mosque. It wasn’t intended to be a playground initially, but I still like to think of it that way. It was a stretch of unplotted land, no houses a long long way, just kids really living their childhood to the full. We used to call this fantastico place ‘Panchpeer’.
My earliest days that I remember going to play there were not those spent in cricket or football or any of those real sports for that matter. My muhalla actually had some interesting age brackets for some uncanny reasons. One one hand, you had us, and by us I don’t mean kids really my age but a shoddy group of ‘kids + teenagers’ all in one collectivity. I cannot really think of a guy who was my exact age in that playground. Still, the future groups that I played in mostly had guys at least 5-6 years elder to me. And on the other hand we had those grown up boys with the mustaches and beards who had the best parts of the ground booked for cricket by some divine intervention in evening when they would come back from their colleges or something. As such, we used to have a hard time getting ‘accepted’ into the good parts of the ground.
And so, we began by playing those peppy games like ‘jaljeera’, ‘poshampa’, ‘baraf-pani’ and all those we could run in and could specify a proper barrier for territory. I was a little over 4 then and my family used to send me there with little apprehensions. But most of the times, a good neighborhood ‘bhaiya’ would accompany me there and so they were fine with it. Those few hours would be the most action I would see in the entire day after coming back from school and I, much like any other kid, would prize them to the utmost.
Then came a crisis. As we all grew up, the other boys slowly started giving up those mindless running games in favor of playing marbles. Well, they had an incentive there in that they got to show some skills in it and also got to win some prized marbles home. Many times, they would have petty fights over them too and slowly the whole cursing and physical fights started kicking in. It was an addiction of sorts and slowly, all of my playmates were into marbles. Now, my family understood that these things between kids turn bad very soon and we would frequently witness fights between families over the kids who would get into fights and hurt each other. And so, that those people do not have a bad impact on me, my family prohibited me from playing marbles. For lack of playmates, my visits to Panchpeer got a sudden brake.
Until that summer season when things turned glorious for everyone. The college boys who used to have almost the whole ground to their disposal suddenly weren’t there! There was no cricket, no football, just some bunch of kids playing useless marbles in a whole playground! It was then that the girls of the muhalla got their stake in the ground and it was again divided for playing marbles and..well everything else. Now one would think how much space can they require for marbles but it wasn’t all about the space actually, it was about superiority status. So the girls were provided a relatively small portion to play, which was actually the earlier part away from the college guys’ cricket part. But they were happy about it and the games began. Having little to do at home during summers (not even kites that is), I got myself to play in the girls’ pack after convincing some of the ‘leaders of the gang’. They used to actually like having a guy play with them, maybe because they thought it gave a certain legitimacy to their demand for more ground. They even used to woo me into getting some other boys into the mix too but none of them joined us. We used to play even peppier games than I used to earlier. We played ‘Kho-KHo’, ‘Aankh micholi’, ‘gend-tadi’ and even…Kabaddi. Now all this was indeed tempting for some boys to join us but they would always be belittled by other boys calling them names for playing with girls. But I didn’t care and because of reasons unknown, they never raised a brow against me.
When the marbles fever finally settled in and the guys moved from that to gilli-danda and eventually Cricket, I was more than happy to join them back. But till then, the crude age differences had gotten even shoddier. We had me, hardly seven, then we had some boys at 18 and most of them 11-13. This used to pose some conflicts in teams and most of the times, I used to play for both teams as a ‘common’. Bad as it may sound, it was actually really good. Double batting and little fielding. Besides, my parents had bought me a bat and so I could not be ruled out at any cost. Oh the days 😛
We had a smooth run for years after that, always playing cricket, while I sometimes still joined the girls in their games, as a token of the friendship we had formed over the years. Most of them were elder to me and so they wouldn’t be snobby about it. And thus, every part of that playground would keep on filling my life with some of the best and most memorable moments of my life- That time when I, out of the blue, got my team to win single-handedly (the common can bat single), that time we flew a single kite together because someone had hit the ball into that dreaded house, that bowler we used to call ‘Brett Lee’ and whom I dreaded facing, losing some of my milk teeth and burying them in that playground, breaking my chin again after falling on a stone trying to catch a girl- all of these images are an ode to that wondrous playground of ours.
Today, if you visit my old home, you would not find any open area on that piece of land, let alone a whole playground. People have build houses there, made them homes and now little children just sit outside their gates sometimes instead of actually going somewhere to play. I guess that playground misses us as much as we remember it. And I guess that all my mates, all those boys and girls, where-ever they might be, would acknowledge the impact that ‘Panchpeer’ has had on our lives.