Sometimes, an innocent game can turn violent! Enjoy this traditional Indian game.
Nigochiaaa ... !
It was the first Sunday of the summer holidays. Arun was the first child to emerge from his apartment and run down to play. This day is going to be the best Sunday of my life, he thought to himself as he took the elevator down to the ground floor.
He hollered and called all his other friends from the apartment complex they all lived in. Each of them came down into the compound within the next ten minutes.
All the boys gathered around Arun, bringing with them water-bottles, small, flat stones and a few other items, the most conspicuous among them being a red, much used (and abused) rubber ball the size of a tennis-ball. Arun gave a high five to each of the friends as they came down to the ground; Suresh, his best friend, got a hug too.
"Have you brought everything?" he asked of his friends.
"Yes!" they shouted in a single chorus.
"Let's see the stones ... " he began; all the friends came forward one step and deposited the stones, one by one, at Arun's feet.
Arun bent down and picked up one. It was nice, flat and smooth. He gave this one to Suresh.
"This one will do." he said approvingly. He bent down and reached for the next one. It was flat, but uneven and about 2" in diameter.
"Hmm ... keep it aside, Suresh, we might or might not use it," he directed.
One by one, he finished assessing the pile of stones at his feet, until he had, in Suresh's hands, seven stones, in approximately seven different sizes.
"Let's go, friends!" he shouted, and the nine of them ran out of the compound and across the small lane to the open ground that lay on the other side.
Quickly, teams were formed, with Arun and Husain being declared the captains: they each chose three team-mates, and the ninth person was called out the "referee". After two bouts, one from each team, the referee would get to join the game, and someone else would, by turn, have to referee the next two bouts. Now, it was time to begin.
Sandeep used a small, thin stick to draw a twelve-inch circle in the sand; Arun and Husain then piled on the seven stones in order of decreasing size, one atop the one below it, till they had a neat pyramid. They got up, dusting their knees, and shook hands in good sportsman-like manner.
"Best of luck, Husain !" said Arun, smiling at his friend-cum-adversary.
"Ya, same to you, pal!" replied the other.
Arun fished out a two-rupee coin from his right trouser-pocket and indicated to Husain to call his choice once the coin was in the air. He flipped the coin up, and Husain called out "tails"; the coin fell tails up and Husain cheered and pumped his hands in the air. His team-mates all let out a whoop of joy. Arun picked up the coin and put it dejectedly into his pocket. He turned around and went back to his mates.
"Let's start!" said Munir, the referee at this moment. Arun's team stood, all on one "side" of the central pile of stones, while one of the players from Husain's side stood about a foot away from the pile, and the rest of Husain's friends stood on one side, ready to join in when Husain broke the pile with a throw of the ball.
Husain stood ten feet away from the pile, on exactly the opposite side of the other team. His stance was aggressive: he looked at his team-mates and signalled a "thumbs-up" to them. He took out the ball from his pocket and aimed it carefully at the pile. He would get just one turn. When he chucked the ball, he had to hit the pile of stones directly and with sufficient force to make the pile topple and the stones fall to the ground. It was also important that after hitting the pile, the ball must not get caught by any of the members of the opposite team. If that happened, his entire team's turn would be forfeited and they would all find themselves on the other side en-masse.
"Okay, here we go ..." he said to no one in particular as he chucked the ball with as much force as he could muster. The ball missed the pile by as many as six inches, and was easily caught by Javed on the other side. Arun sniggered at Husain, who sniggered right back at him.
Shrikant went next, and got out as easily. Akram was the third player to go. He was a burly team-mate whom all the friends were just a wee bit afraid of. He made threatening swerves with the ball still in his hand, and as the opponents ducked this way and that, he let loose the ball accurately on the small pyramid with a speed of over seventy-five miles an hour! The pile shattered and the stones fell here and there; the ball flew in yet another direction, out of reach of all the four opponents; All Husain's team-mates shouted "Nigochiaaa ... !" and began to run away from where they had stood a few moments earlier.
Husain's fourth team-mate Sandeep, who stood conveniently near the pile, averted one of the small stones that flew in his direction. Immediately, he sat down and began putting the stones together.
Manu, who fielded with Arun in the opposite team came rushing in near the circle; he pushed Sandeep aside and kicked all the stones in different directions. This caused Sandeep to cry "foul" but Munir was looking elsewere, and did not notice the action.
Munir, the referee, was in fact looking at where Husain's team-mates had to do two things to survive: a) they had to run away from Arun's team-mates who would try to hit one of them on their backs or fronts above the waist and b) at the same time, they had to outsmart their opponents and come in and reassemble the pyramid before anyone got hit by the ball!
Thus, both teams had their work cut out for them - a melee ensued, wherein Munir could but be a mute spectator. The boys were running this way and that, some adept at the task of ducking, others, at the task of chucking and yet others, running and milling around the circle, either trying to "build" the pyramid (Husain's team) or to "topple" it (Arun's team).
It is at this point that eight girls, led by Anagha, entered the playground area and began snickering and laughing at the boys.
Initially, the boys took no heed of them. The girls were about their age and had often been their play-mates; however, today, the girls were in a mischievous mood, and one of them passed a rather derogatory remark when Arun passed near them. Arun heard the word "lafanga", which is loosely translated as a "no-good ruffian", and he gave an angry side-glance at the girl and moved on. This emboldened the girls, who began to be more and more vociferous and interruptive. Saleema went to the circle and sat next to Shrikant and tickled him in the ribs as he was about to laboriously put the final stone atop the six-stone pyramid; his hand moved shakily and the entire formation crumbled to the ground. He shouted "stupid bitch!" at Saleema, who got up hastily, frightened at the violent tone in Shrikant's voice.
Shreya, Anagha and Lekha, however, did not forgive Shrikant as easily. They picked up the ball when it came near them during play, and ignoring the pleas of Javed, Suresh, Manu and Arun, they passed it on to Hanifa, who aimed it at the pyramid under erection and chucked it expertly to topple the stones yet again.
Husain and Akram saw the action and called for a "Time-out"; then, without actually waiting for Munir's ruling, they came running to where the girls stood and stood with their arms folded by the side in a belligerent, angry posture.
"Why did you do that?" growled Akram, baring his teeth menacingly.
"Do what?" asked Anagha.
"You deliberately broke the pile and nullified our effort twice!" Husain almost shouted into Anagha's ears.
"I did that because your team-mate Shri spoke rudely to Saleema." answered Anagha with as much bravado as she could muster, though inwardly, she was already shaking with fear.
"Shri!" called out Husain to his team-mate.
"Yes. What is it?" answered Shrikant.
"Is it true that you spoke rudely to Saleema?"
"Yes, I did! She tickled me just as I was finishing my pyramid!"
Husain turned to Saleema. He pointed his finger at her and asked her point-blank if Shrikant's allegation had been correct.
She meekly looked down and nodded.
"So, can we go ahead and play?" asked Husain sarcastically.
Anagha went up to Husain and said, "Sorry. I over-reacted!"
Husain turned red in the face as his friends began to laugh and snicker behind his back. He replied, "It's all right, Anu, but please do not harass us like ..."
"May we join in, please?" Anagha interrupted, looking back to her friends for approval. They all nodded their heads enthusiastically.
"I must ask Arun and my other friends," muttered Husain and he went up to the boys to convey the request. The boys were secretly pleased to have the girls join them, but they took their own sweet time "deliberating" over the request. Finally, Husain came back to the girls with a positive response. The girls cheered for the boys three times and joined them for a stimulating morning of mixed play. When one of the teams broke the pyramid and then reassembled it successfully in the fourth round, a cry rent the air, "Nigochiaaa ...!" Arun's team had won the game for the day.
The boys and girls went back to their homes, content and tired at the conclusion of a morning full of good play and fun.
Nigochiaaa is a traditional ball and pyramid game played even today by boys and girls in small lanes of big cities and small towns and villages of India.