Perspectives from the Himalaya

The Heart of Play

As the snow begins to melt with the abrupt appearance of spring disrobing the stark towering granite, 11 pairs of boyish limbs came springing up from all directions of the village to seek new adventures. They appeared in unforeseen lengths and widths but share an insatiable spirit of curiosity and play with a whiff of mischief. Except for a beaten football, abundant wild bamboo and an infinite topography of vertical slices that rise to 1600 metres above sea level thronged with wheat, mustard, millet, barley and hard stalks of paddy residues from the last harvest, the vast landscape becomes their unhindered playground. The skyward contour defines a jungle gym that invites the boys to create what may seem at first glance, a spartan and frugal play, but an arresting construction of their own with bamboo, leaves, rope and a sickle starts to take shape. Sheltered with twigs of leaves covering the bamboo framework, the interior is wide enough to house four boys. Following the success of the first, another appeared the next day and then another. As a hideout and as a space of ownership, they carve their play and craft with the bounties of nature.

Uncle R brings with him yet another football from Pokhara and a resounding hurrah was heard. The polyurethane globe is endowed with an incredible quality that draws all castes, gender, age and labels, uniting them as little homo sapiens. The children were simply left to be, with wisdom that they inherently have in them before they are shaped and influenced by all that is around them.

Sounds of play and work reverberated like a rhapsody without a conductor. The kicks of the ball merged with the rhythm of ramming walls. The Jumla boys perched on the highest walls-to-be, jammed the bass with earthwork providing a sturdy beat to the cacophonous symphony whilst the melody of cries, cheers and squabbles from the lower terrace weaved freely around the solid temper. The occasional screeching of eagles, a kind of laughing cackle stirring from above whipped the symphony like a chord from a broken string of a violin. The goats left unattended by the distracted herder took the liberty to chew on the vegetable patch but bellowed away, clip-clopping on the stone walls giving a touch of percussion. The chord progression rose, injected with tussles and scuffles and digressed into a whimsical melody, eventually becoming a sonorous hum. Waves of harmony and discord filled the air incessantly, leaving the single spectator in disarray. Then there was Time ticking away until the sun was being swallowed by a thundercloud looming up. An orange-smoked cumulus was scudding low over the east. From a distance came a low rumble. A clap of thunder. Then there was a second flash and another little figure materialised, skinny but athletic, one who hears not the skyward orchestration but the magnetic cries of the ball. The sky rumbled again in reply. A tongue of lightning flickered around the edges of the cloud illuminating remaining patches of blue sky in which eagles began to wing for shelter. Leaping over the cascading terraces the children scrambled in alternate spells of darkness and flashes of light, at first refusing to go home but finally took flight with the eagles and within minutes, disappeared into the dark.

Still, the storm would not break.

Spring revives and reinvigorates after deep rest in winter. New mischief sprouts. Time becomes ruthless. The end of March zips around the corner bringing with it soaring temperatures. In a matter of 2 weeks, 4 layers of winter clothing were bartered for t-shirts and track bottoms.

The sun, which had lately been scorching the village with particular vehemence, had not yet reached its zenith when the cold water from the outdoor tap enticed a boy holding a water shooter and the others armed with water balloons toward it. As they emerged sun-drenched, their hearing detected far below where a stone wall divides the lower terraces from the upper structures, a low babel of voices broken now and again by half groans half shrieks. An eyebrow rose high and a smirk transpired. Frowning skywards he saw the incandescent ball was nearly overhead and his shadow had shrunk to almost nothing. His damp pants refused to stay dampened for too long. When the balloons were bloated with liquid, the troops feeling adequately armed marched down ready to pounce. The other team was ill-prepared and within minutes emerged defeated but in utter glee drenched in the coolness. Both teams reloaded creating mayhem at the water spout. Two hundred and twenty-five water balloons were devoured in an hour of madness adding to the clamour of the scene which was beginning to reach a swelling height. Mud puddles began to form and stained their feet, ankles and shins. Bodies and hair glittered under the ball of fire. And more was to come as they reached out for buckets and plastic mugs and cups and ladles to soak each other till what was left standing dry was the one handing out sweet ladoos to the smiling faces.

The mound of red clay stands as a landmark dividing the construction workplace and the untarnished terraces for agriculture and play. An essential ingredient in earth walls, the size of the mound fluctuates with the number of walls created. Having reached near completion of the external structures, the mound stands like a little dune in placidity. The usual suspects eyed it with an itchy inkling of impishness. Perhaps inspired by the recent Winter Olympics, pieces of used planks from formwork were hunted from the forbidden zone. It started with the simple act of sliding the planks down and finding a smoother part of the clay dune. There was observation aplenty and then, the adventurous one took the plunge. He placed himself on the tip of the plank and rocked his body for momentum. Down he went on a slow ride that halted midway and then abandoned his plank and ran down. That was enough to get the others going. They manoeuvred themselves in antics that involved chest-dives and butt-dives and all manners of clay-stained positions that could only result in an inevitable outcome of clay in hair and unidentifiable red-brown bottoms, a great despair for the washer. And so we have it, a new sport of clay boarding that calls out for truancy and absenteeism from the learning table.

Alas, struck by the intoxicating freshness of spring twilight, a single ray of moonlight struggles through the dusty window to cast a dim radiance onto the stainless steel surface of the kitchen. A trail of 3 mighty black ants spirited away with crumbs of lemon cake left astray by little hands. They hurried down to the floor occasionally emerging from darkness into the column of moonbeam and back into the shadow like minute phantoms with stealthiness, un-marking their presence. Like the ants, it often feels that the adult so serious in their busy-ness (business) would have much to learn from the little beings where everything could be better with a dose of silliness and playfulness.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Appreciate your sound advice Uncle Nathan. Thank you

  2. Dear Ai ling,
    Seek to enlarge your Appreciation of the Beauty of nature,animals and Humans.
    Always look for the good,even in the most difficult situations.
    Begin to see yourself as a spritual being having an earthly experience of growth and transformation.

  3. Thanks Aimi!

  4. Beautifully written! Well done, Ii Ling! It has warmth and wit.

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