“Aeee Matki, shoot!” Radha screamed. The puny guy hurled the ball in an arch. It hit a pile of stones in the centre of the field, scattering them asunder.
Resounding cheers and hoots merged with the mooing of buffaloes that grazed in the pastures, as the teams reversed roles. Ghelo and Ghogho ran in circles, retrieving one stone at a time, expertly dodging the opponents’ aim. A few minutes later, there stood a pile of six stones, guarded by hefty urchins from the neighbouring village. Dahyo nodded at Jwala in agreement as she blazed across the field, her long red skirt trailing behind. With a victorious roar, she slapped a small stone on top of the pile, as her team mates erupted in cheers.
Thirty years later
“Mr Millionaire?” Dahyo snapped his fingers, startling Karsan out of his reverie. “Ah! Mr NRI!” he replied, as they hugged .They turned around to read the bold letters, “Ghurki Railway Station”. A warm sense of belonging engulfed them.
“You are late, again.” A melodious voice caught them unaware .It was Radha, waiting for them to get into the auto rickshaw.
As the rickshaw turned away from the highway, Radha revelled in a sense of pride. “We did manage to get a ‘Pukka’ road all the way to our village, eh?” The men nodded, their eyes twinkling.
Each street of Ghurki was a memory lane, as the seven reunited friends hobbled along, just as they had thirty years back. The asphalt clad roads, the street lights, the terraces with solar panels, the public urinals, the new school building and the lads playing seven stones all looked gratefully at these seven beacons that continued shining on their tiny village, even after life took them to fancier places.
The night was chilly, as they sat in a circle, relishing piping hot Khichdi.
“Satodiyu”, Karsan reminisced the game of seven stones that had brought them together.
Dahyo reflected, “The game taught me a lot. I owe my entire business empire to the team work I learnt with you guys.”
Karsan agreed, “It taught me to aim in the right direction.”
Radha chipped in, “I just play my role well. Being the topmost stone does not matter anymore.”
Ghelo and Ghogho spoke at once, like in the olden days.
“I know my aim improves every time I play.”
“Good deeds find their way back to you. Protect your team mates at all costs.”
Jwala, now the most soft spoken of the lot, concluded, “At the end of the day each one is trying to build his own pile. It gave me perspective.”
Radha poked Matki in the ribs, just as he was dozing off.” Oh yes! You just rebuild your cairn as many times as you need to.”
The farewell this time was like any other. But the promise of meeting again would be kept this time. Lagori premier league was a couple of months away. And they knew they would leave no stone unturned.
Author’s note: Seven stones is an ancient outdoor Indian game, believed to be played by Lord Krishna. It is played between two teams, the hitters and the seekers. The seekers then try to restore the pile of stones while staying safe from the hitters’ throws. The hitter’s objective is to hit the seekers with the ball before they can reconstruct the stone pile. This game united people from all sections of society and walks of life before it lost its shine to social media and virtual games of today. Called Satodiyu in Gujarat, it is known by different names like Lagori, Pithu Garam, Dabba Kali and many more in other regions of India. In the last five years, with the advent of Indian Lagori Premier League, there is hope that this indigenous sport shall reclaim its position in our hearts.
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