Pilelo-Ho!
Not A Child's Play - I
Not A Child's Play - I

The summer season is here. And to beat up the scorching heat, we have this wonderful color piece from Rashi Jamuar as she shares an exciting induction she underwent with a colleague at Magic Bus.

Imagine a hot, humid Mumbai summer afternoon. The burning ground of Shivaji Park, Mumbai and a few children between 7–12 years of age. Now cut to our offices and comfortable desks. On-desk laptops, our toys instead of the mud-loaded footballs that the kids had and cherished. Easily-accessible, cool drinking water and generous mugs of coffee and tea at our disposal. I can bet the second option brings a smile of relief and sounds more welcoming to most of us tucked away in our little, cozy offices.

This was a scene from my long pending induction visit to one of the community sessions. Claire and I took off from amidst the usual crazy day at work accompanied by Kusum as planned. Unaware that we were about to witness the reality of our jobs, get into a rendezvous with the dream the Magic Bus family shares, and so beautifully at that. Planned for a 02:30 pm schedule, the children were running a little late. “Exam chalu hai na iske liye thoda late ho gaye aaj” (the exam season is on, so we are running a little late), chirped Trupti.

After a long wait of 40 minutes that Claire spent with some film makers and I spent sharpening my practically non-existent football skills, there was a sudden gush of chirpiness. Our champs from the Dharavi community had arrived for their session. Their chaos sounded green. I emphasize the green-ness of et al cause even the hot sun on that Tuesday afternoon couldn't dampen the spirits of our little champions. They were cucumber cool and were set to play themselves wild even as the sun stared them down. Without wasting a single second they rushed towards the shoe rack, secured in a corner, to put on the best fit, finding place anywhere on the ground to sit. “Didi, aaj match khelenge na?” (We will have a match today, won't we?), asked one of the boys from the group who apparently was ready before the other peer members. With some stretching performed in 2 groups we were told we would play a game. Claire and I were amused and amazed at the idea of running around with these kids. Too dignified we thought, only until it was our turn to kick the goal.

Bhaago Pakdo (run, catch) is the game we played. Here’s how we play it and those of you who think you are champions at the sport, I challenge you to play the game by the rules these kids play it. There are two teams that stand parallel to each other facing opposite sides. There are goals at both the ends. Each team member is given a number. As the referee whistles and calls out a number the member given that particular number from each team runs across the field, from around their goal posts and comes to the centre. Here’s a ball placed at the centre which is to be kicked by the team members in opposite goals. Those of you who want a simpler version of this, it’s playing football with one player in each team.

We were 10 members per team. By the time number 3 was called out, Claire and I were already busy making strategies to tackle each other, without letting it show on our faces. To add to the madness, we were jumping up and down to cheer our team members. Think about it, two grown up girls dressed in Magic Bus tee-shirts and track pants with our shoes on, sweating, red in face and jumping like we were some 5-year-old and were handed over a truck full of our favorite candies. By the time it was our turn to run around the goal post and try and score for our teams, we weren’t Claire and Rashi anymore, we had transformed into one of those kid team members.

Claire might want to disagree but she is good at the game (talk about being naturally blessed with a sporty physique). But am sure I gave her a tough competition (and won!). After 3 rounds of Bhaago Pakdo, it was time for some real action – the football match. I just wouldn’t fit into one of the colourful jerseys, so I quickly wrapped a blue one around my neck awaiting my teams turn to go into the field. While I was too busy making friends with my team-mates, one of the kids, Chetan smiled and said, “Didi, tum centre half khelna, aap acha khelte ho” (you play the centre half, you play well). Man! Was I proud of myself. A total of 4 teams, we were to play without a referee. I think the idea was pretty obvious – to inculcate a sense of true sportsmanship, honesty and being able to take defeat into our stride and learn to try harder. No exaggeration – I could use a refresher myself.

After an afternoon well-spent (realizing how much we could use more such sessions at least once a week) we finally got into the ‘Magic Bus’ to go ‘home’ – our communities.

What happened soon after is not just emotionally stirring but requires a great deal of much more energy and careful selection of words and feelings. Stay tuned in for the ‘Not a child’s play - II’.

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