India will be celebrating National Games from February 27-March 3. In anticipation, interviewing some experts in the field of Indian games brings light to the value of such games in strengthening India’s youth. This is the second in this series.
It’s time to start preparing for the long, hot summers where endless afternoon hours get zapped through fun indoors with friends and family, and, most importantly, board games. Imaculate Antony, founder of Ima Recreations, discusses her world of games, and her perspectives on Indian games. Through her interview, it is understood that games are more than just a time pass for housewives and summer activities for children. Games are useful for all members of society, and all parts of our lives.
Imaculate had an interesting childhood. While some families promoted play (Such as Aman Sureka’s in Kolkata) others stuck to studies, and found a way to make that play. We travel to Coimbatore to learn about Imaculate Antony’s early days.
Tell us about your own childhood. Where did you grow up? What games and sports did you play then?
I was born and brought up in a small town called Somanur, in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. I have two younger brothers. Our parents were elementary school teachers. During that time, it was only studies, studies and more studies. My dad used to tell me that I have to study as much as possible so that I can be a good role model to my brothers. So, I used to play teacher-student pretend play to make my brothers study and do their homework. I was never good at any games or sports; still, I participated in whatever activities I could: essay writing, elocution competition, quizzes. I enjoyed reading books and visiting our village library; I used all the money I could get on books.
Talking about other children, Imaculate, too, emphasized sportsmanship as a benefit of games and sports.
How were other children around you growing up? Did they also play games and sports? Why or why not?
At that time, all boys used to play and all girls used to help with work at home. Though we were not well off, my parents never made me do any work. Rather, they expected me to do well in studies and make sure that brothers study too.
My school used to have a sports teacher and used to have drills and participate and conduct many interschool sports events. I always went with our school team as a volunteer and helped our sports teacher with many activities and encouraged our team. The amazing team spirit and pride we feel when we win and the sportsmanship is something I still remember. The only time we played is during summer holidays. We used to go to our grandma's house and sit in big verandahs and play the whole day with village children (for them we were town kids). Climbing trees, playing in the river stream, hide and seek on the farm, I spy games and many board games and village games. We used to play with our cousins and neighbors.
It was definitely all fun and games, and it went beyond that. Imaculate further explained that there would be a learning exchange among the children. “As town kids, we would teach them rhymes and songs and they teach us games and tricks to do farm work. Even now those memories and bonding is vivid in our memory. That’s why when we invite children to play, we call our place as ‘granny's house and verandah club’ just to replicate that environment.”
There was a purpose to this sort of exchange: it built bridges between children, created relationships, and thus bridged the urban-rural divide. Imaculate continued: “when all ages and all abilities play together that bonding, belongingness and relationship is very strong. So if we want strong friendship, family relations, and good neighbours to last for a lifetime, then we need to start playing such traditional games again and bond like good old days.”
What did traditional games and sports do for you and other children of your generation?
Imaculate explained that games help children become mature members of society by teaching life skills in a covert manner. She ponders whether online friends and games can provide such meaningful relationships. “Screen time and online games sometimes may also be good for creativity and problem solving. Sometimes they may not depict real life situations and make people think blood and accidents are just social media status.”
When talking about traditional Indian games, she points out, “It’s about bonding, relationships, trust and friendship. We don’t have such friends now. We may have 1000 friends online; but 1 friend that we played and fought and played is more precious. We learn all skills needed for real life and society through games.
We learn to adjust with each other, respect each other's strengths, weaknesses, give space, wait for your turn, sharing, creativity to use available resources, patience, focus, team spirit, lifting each other, collaboration. I can go on. Also if we play together we will stay together. It's not that we didn’t have our fights or differences in opinion. But we learnt to express and accept them. Any and all fights are forgotten in a game and new fights, new games, new days come; and bond was stronger.
That’s why even now we rely on our childhood friends and treasure our childhood memories. What will be such memories for our current generation. We need to bring back that playing real games with real people and make real bonding and friendship. Games can bring back interpersonal skills, social skills and help us handle all relationship issues.”
Bringing back traditional games into the lives of children takes time and effort. In fact, arguably, Imaculate also lost touch with the games she used to play. However, being inquisitive and playful since childhood brought Imaculate back to games when the time was ripe with fruit!
When and why did you start researching traditional sports and games?
For each of the panelists, there were more precious moments that brought them back to the world of games.
“I started in 2015 after my dad passed away leaving a Pallankuzhi board for me. I did study MCA and worked for 20 years in various IT jobs and had a great career and made my Dad proud. I was also happy and proud of my job and achievements until the day my dad passed away. That became a big void and I was wondering why my dad bought a pallanguzhi board and left that for me, My mom told me lately Dad was feeling in chasing success I forgot to stop and smell the roses.
After that, for almost 40 days, I didn’t think of getting back to work. And when I was finally coming back to Bangalore from Coimbatore in a day train, I saw families sitting around each other but so apart in their own world (mobiles). So I started playing the “I Spy” game with one kid sitting next to me. We kept on naming an object, then found the object and whoever found it named the next object. Within a few minutes the entire compartment was playing that game. Just to make it more challenging I asked the person to find it to spell it and the next object to start with the last letter. Now for spelling: our present generation can’t spell without spell-check. So they partnered with grandparents. The game continued until we reached Bangalore. Many grandparents enjoyed and told me now they know how to connect back with their grandchildren using these games. It is then and there I decided that I will also use these traditional games to bring back the lost bonding between and beyond generations.”
It became evident that Imaculate’s career trajectory would soon change, and the games would blossom into her life’s (Re) creation.
When and why did you start Ima recreations?
I had a sequence of events which made me create Ima Recreation. When I wanted to bring back the games, I connected back with all my relatives and friends to get the game board and the games they played. We gathered some 20 games like Five Stones, Snakes and Ladders, Pallankuzhi, Thayam, etc. We couldn’t find any board/ traditional dice to play. We started gathering them and learning the games. We took it to a play school and paid them money to play with their children. Then parents and teachers immediately realised the benefits: children started sitting in one place and playing; by playing their concentration, focus, patience, coordination, observation all improved; they were becoming good at expressing themselves. Then they started requesting me to play with more children and more regularly. Within a few months, I got to do 10+ games including outdoor and group games in a big event in Freedom Park.
People were interested in playing and buying the games to take home and play so we started visiting all state museums in search of game boards. If we couldn’t find a game, we would make the board, sit in strategic places and usually someone who remembers will try to recollect/ learn from their grandparents and teach us. We already stated seeing that bonding happened, recreation happened that motivated us to learn more games. As we taught, we also learnt.
If people want to buy, we need to make them. We started searching for traditional artisans to make. But, they have all moved to other occupations. So if we need to bring these games back, we need to make more boards so it becomes a nice life cycle. So we learn and make more games and spread more games and happiness to all.”
Imaculate has taken this as her life’s work and is continually researching to learn more about games, and share them with society.
How many games have you uncovered and re-developed? Tell us about them. Where are they from? What are their histories?
When we first started, we thought there are probably 10 board games and 10 outdoor games and maybe a few activities: Pagade, Snakes and ladder, Thayam, Chaupad, Goat and Tiger and may be Tic Tac Toe; and activities like 5 stones, Cup and Ball, Whistle, Yo Yo.
In reality, there are 1000s of games which are completely forgotten. We have documented and classified them as Mancala/ Pallankuzhi variety of games, Dice and Race games, Dice and Race Strategy games, Hunting games, War Strategy games, Alignment Strategy games, and so forth. In every division, there are 100s of boards and 100s of variations in different cultures. The more we learnt, the more we got intrigued. There is a lot of ancient wisdom in our games which are completely lost along with games. In games, there is art, culture, societal norms, social values, and beliefs. These games build character, relationships, interpersonal skills, mental abilities.
It is not just in our culture: in every culture, games and their values are gone. Even archeologists didn’t pay much attention to games and recreation. If you look at the Olympics, many are ancient sports, recreated. In the same way, there are 1000s of games to be recreated. In Our YouTube channel, so far we have documented 35 different ways of playing pallanguzhi/ Alukuzhi Mane, 15 ways of alignment strategy games, and many hunting games.
There are lots to be researched about the games and more than often we may not know how they were played but these games always travelled even 2000 / 4000/ 5000 years ago and you will find similar games in every culture. Mancala is in every continent and every tribe. Same with dice games; same with hunting games;same with war strategy games.
The origin and ancient wisdom in games is one huge area to be researched. Another area to be studied is the benefits of playing games. We have observed children’s ability improves tremendously when they just play without bothering about learning and improving skills.”
In fact, games can do a lot for children, teaching about life and skills that are useful for the modern world as well. They are great for mental health development, as well as physical and physiological. Imaculate talks about the benefits.
What do games do for children? How do they support positive mental health and development? What do games do for the nervous system? Muscular? Other?
NICEF, UNESCO & WHO core life skills are defined as:
- problem solving
- critical thinking
- effective communication
- decision making
- creative thinking
- interpersonal skills
- self- awareness
- coping with stress & emotions
All of the above can be achieved through our traditional games. I think that’s what our ancestors did while designing games!
We humans are a social animal. Playing games is precious. In today's environment children as well as adults miss that. When I started summer camp, every parent told me that their kid without mobile can not sit in one place. However, even on the first day, the children didn’t want to leave even after playing for 3 hours and parents kept waiting.
Playing any game with each other itself is good for their emotions, belongingness, mental, emotional and interpersonal development and bonding. Now imagine playing a traditional game which is infused with so much of ancient wisdom like rolling dice/ kavade improves flexibility, activates nerves, improves hand flexibility, activates nerves and brain cells. I spy is a game of observation of the environment, if you learn to live with the environment you will never feel depressed or lonely. Even special needs children can play. Parents will say ‘my kid won't mingle with others’. The same kid, after a game or two, will be shouting and laughing at the top of their voice, without therapy/ counseling. Playing games with others (people older than you, younger than you, differently abled than you) makes you an all round human being who understands and appreciates the world we live in.
Imaculate believes games can be beneficial to children of all ages, including matured adults, regardless of their position in society, at home or work. Games can develop skills useful in personal as well as professional realms. Imaculate weaves folklore from ages ago to explain how games have been played by adults throughout time.
What is the purpose of games for adults?
“If we look back it's always adults who played games. There was time for playing in every culture and place for playing too. All kings and queens played games. From Akbhar to Mahabharat kings to Mysore Maharaja: all played all kinds of games to keep their body and mind fit. Somewhere, games got classified as boys games, girls games, etc. In the very beginning, games were associated with occupation and season and life events like birth, puberty, adulthood, occupation, recreation, marriage, even for funerals. Somewhere, it became about age and gender.
In olden days, when merchant ships come to shore with valuables, to decide with whom to do business, they just play a game. You can't assess a person's character in 1000 days, but in one game. There are a lot of legends for games and characters. In anycase, Games teach a never give up attitude: if you start a game, finish it. Winning or losing is part of life. It teaches you to handle failure and build team spirit. In a team game, you will automatically learn to collaborate, use strengths, cover weaknesses, and support and lift each other up.
There is so much wisdom in games for any age. For example, 5 stones makes you multitask, teaches you hand eye coordination, and makes your nerve, hands and brain active. Mancala variety of games require counting, mental maths, resource management, thinking many steps ahead of the opponent, etc. Applying SWOT analysis is done in every game move in dice games.
For adults, games help to relax them. Recreation itself enables us to create fresh, fresh thoughts. It sharpens our thinking, perspectives, strategy, problem solving skills, observation, planning, and keeps our body-mind-soul all in the present moment. CEOs need not play golf only. We can play a Goat and Tiger game or a Tower of Brahma game and have a fresh perspective too.
We may learn a lot of knowledge and skills in the real world and in schools. Applying those learnings comes automatically when we play. If you see Maharajas made their wards play many war strategy games, hunting games along with real outdoor games and activities to keep the body and mind fit. Mysore Maharaja is an avid board gamer. Even now if you see goat and tiger is played by all. Chaupar by all. Pagade by kings.
Even when working with corporates, we take these games as strategy games, team building games, and ice breakers. There are games for every purpose: Resource management, Alignment strategy, War strategy, etc. In a game we can always identify a person's style of management and leadership, as a risk taker, collaborator, follower, leader, problem solver, innovator, etc.
In many cultures, successors are decided based on funeral games. Tribal leader based on his games skills. Even in games of chances is considered as it is divine intervention.
So games are not just child's play.
All games are for all ages and ability. However, every culture has its folklore and beliefs based on that time culture and society. For example Chennamane should not be played between sisters. There is a beautiful Sripada for that. Like I said earlier, these games need to be researched and documented from all sorts of artifacts we can gather. Interdisciplinary study is needed to understand any ancient game and its impact then and now.
For now, all of us can play and enjoy all the games as long as we don’t gamble and take games very seriously and rather than talk, just play and let the games do the magic.
We all know the old adage, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. How do we decide to engage in games, and with whom?
How much time should we spend on games?
As often as possible is the answer. My recommendation is you can always squeeze in a game in whatever you do. We have just a few minutes to hours of fun games. We have games for all ages and all places. While traveling you can play I Spy as the purpose of travel is to observe and enjoy the journey. And based on people, place, and time, pick a game and just play.
Then you will see the magic.
Imaculate’s message was one of peace, joy, and happiness, love and life, echoing Aman from Buddhi Yoga.
“Just play together and stay together. Play will make you Love and Live your life. It will bring Joy, Peace, Happiness amongst family and friends and in turn in society. reCreation is a must for proper positive creation.”
How has interest in games changed after Covid and lockdowns?
We were worried during lockdown and thought that it may be the last nail as every one tuned to online and clinging to their online screens as lifeline. I was even wondering whether these games suvive this blow. I was keep telling myself don’t worry these games survived 5000 years they will suvive covid19. And I belive they survived.
When I started 5 years back, there were few people who were vey proud that their children can play in mobile and in compute at such an young age and who will play such boring board games. That changed within few yeas to , oh they are addicted to screens, can you pls make them interested in any one game. We can always find a game a person likes. Few are logical thinkers, few like action based, few like strategy games.
And we were promoting these games as bonding tools, We make grand parents to show off their lattu spinning skill, 5 stones skill or a board game skill with grand child. But covid wiped out our reach. So we started vlogging these games so that people can atleast play at home using things at home. Luckily many people got sooo much dependent only on online world slowly they started playing these games simply out of boredom of online world.
Even when we conducted workshops and train the tainner mode for few NGO coordinatos and they took our games and gave it to village children and families to play.
Many parents told me they wished they had remembered to play these games during lock down and said they will play now. So lock down become an opportunity. Like board games and indoor games, I wish we can revive out door games too and have a safe place for families to come out and play with other families like good old days. We did do few out door events and the way every one enjoyed gives us hope that we will survive along with our games. We must try to spread them more than ever.
What's your favorite game? Why? Tell us how to play it. Whom do you play with?
One of the favorite game is Pallankuzhi and its variations. Every time I will be stunned by how different cultures adapted slight variations and it became a totally different game requring different kind of strategic thinking. If you master different ways of playing you will lean to unlearn and relearn. I wish I will be able to vlog all different ways of playing in my life time. We have vlogged 35 different ways collated from living memory of people, my customers and their grand parents etc. There are 300 to 700 different ways in every culture even today. I wish to document them.
What inroads have you made into the gaming scene?
We won't count our sales or money. We are becoming sustainable now. However we count our impacts as how many people we make them lean and play few games fully. We can confidently say every year minimum we make 10,000 people play. Even in 2020 we made 5000+ people play these games.